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 lard pirates dawt cawm  §  Dragon Age 2 (Demo) in a Nutshell / by Spoony Spoonicus
 the waggoner  §  articles and general riff-raff exceeding your expectations of worthlessness.
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 ~Spoony Spoonicus on 01:35pm 02/15/13 (09:55pm 02/22/11) in 22h38m10s  §  9013 eyeballs
 chained to: Games in a Nutshell  §  first - previous - next - latest
 Bustin' down plots like the T pities fools.
 anchors: none.
Is it just as pointless, childish and one-note as everything else EA's had a hand in lately? Let's find out!

As we begin, we're given the choice of three character classes. If you've played any RPG ever, I'll bet you can already guess what they are. That's right, we went with the boring old mainstays of Fighter, Rogue and Mage, and didn't even bother to mix it up a bit by thinking of clever new names for them. So right off the bat, we see that the developers' imaginations are stuck in 1981 and stubbornly refuse to go past that point, ever.

Spoony: Even Etrian Odyssey - a game series fully intended to be a throwback to the old dungeon-crawler RPGs of the early-80s - had more creative class archetypes than this. Like the Gladiator (lightly armored but very powerful fighters), the Hexer (status casters), the Buccaneer (teamwork-based class that does powerful "followup" attacks in response to the actions of their allies), the Wildling (beastmasters)... need I go on?

At any rate, I pick the Mage class, because let's face it, that's always the best class to play. Your teammates will be struggling for their lives against some crappy monster, and all you have to do to turn things around is use one or two well-timed spells to render it feeble and helpless, or just nuke it with a fireball the size of a city block. Then you get declared awesome and you get first pick of all the loot as recognition for your efforts. Well, that's how it goes down in any game other than this one, but we'll get to that shortly.

As we pick and customize our character (defaults for everything because it's a demo and none of it's going to carry over to the full version anyway), he decides to strike a dramatic pose and twirl his staff menacingly. This fails to impress because, being a mage, he is bound by video game law and can never, ever touch a weapon that can do any actual damage.

Hum de dum, introductory cinematic that can't focus on any character for more than three seconds. Skipping the rest because I fear the constant cuts and flashing images might trigger an epileptic seizure. Good to see they're putting my two gigabytes of hard drive space to such productive use, though, what with one uncompressed, noninteractive full-motion video after another. This stuff might have been impressive on the PS1, an era when high-quality FMV in games was relatively new, but in an era when in-engine graphics can generally match anything prerendered cutscenes are capable of with far less strain on memory and disk space... yeah, not nearly as much.

Speaking of which, the graphics in Dragon Age 2 are ass-ugly. Like, early Playstation 2 quality. Low-res textures, jagged polygons abound, so little facial movement in characters that they almost look like hand puppets, and a color palette that's predominantly brown and gray does not make this a game that appeals to the eye. Even the first game looked better!

It's here that we come across our first big disappointment in that our mage is not the archetypal "guy who turns a dire situation around by defying the laws of nature" character. Instead, Dragon Age's definition of "mage" simply reads "See : Ranged Attacker, Page 8". Or perhaps "The Last Airbender", since he tosses minute fireballs and icicles by performing Tai-Chi with his staff, none of which do any significant amount of damage. Even your spellbar doesn't change this much - you have the ability to throw ice at an enemy to slow them down for roughly half a second, which might - MIGHT - save one of your fighters from taking one or two points of damage off of their reserve of roughly 130 apiece.

And no, playing as a fighter or thief isn't any more fun, since they take about a billion swings to take down one single enemy too. Nevermind that in the preceding cinematic we saw monsters get cleaved in half at the midsection with a single blow, complete with endlessly cheesy Mortal Kombat blood fountains. Apparently EA's still trapped in the mindset of the mid 90s, when stuff like that was "cool" and "edgy", and they've dragged Bioware down with them.

Spoony: Also the first of many glaring signs that this game is not designed and marketed toward a more mature demographic as it so desperately claims to be. But I'll get into that as we go.

After a very drawn out and boring battle, a dragon flies down from the cliffside and bathes everyone in flame. Well, it wasn't a very good demo, but at least it was shor- wait, what is this?

Oh, now we cut to a fat guy and some chick talking. We have no idea who either of them are, but apparently the fat guy is narring the story to the other woman. Okay. She accuses him of making things up (like she even knows) and now he says he's going to tell her what REALLY happened. Shades of "Hero" starring Jet Li, only with with none of the fun that description might imply.

Cut back to our party, where we learn that they're attempting to navigiate our main character's sister and mother to safety against the invading skeleton hordes. Alright. After another very boring battle where we dispatch a dozen more skeletons with airbending and swordfighting, I get a note that the Codex has been updated.

Yeah, you remember this thing. Tri-Ace started it with Star Ocean 3, and now EA and Bioware have run with it as a cheap way of leaving all the plot out of the game itself just to hammer in another combat scene every forty seconds. That, and it lets them get away with hiring voice actors for a game at a greatly reduced cost - they don't have to actually explain any of the backstory, major characters or key plot points, a little notebook does it for them! All they have to do is belch out two or three scenes of dull small talk, collect their paycheck, and be on their way. Yeah, fuck that; I'm not going to bring the whole game to a complete stop to read this damn thing.

Spoony: Storytelling 101, guys: If you want me to pay attention to your story and your game's "rich universe", PUT IT IN THE ACTUAL GAME. Having to interrupt the action every twenty minutes and read a small novel of text just to figure out exactly what they were talking about in those last couple cutscenes is fucking asinine. Hell, imagine if 85% of Metal Gear's plot and character development was trimmed out and moved into a little external notebook just so they could pad out the game with dozens of rooms that serve no real purpose outside of giving you more busywork to complete. Wouldn't really be much fun, now would it?

The worst part about this whole Codex fiasco is that it's caught on and even Squaresoft is doing it now with Final Fantasy XIII, so we can look forward to every RPG for the next ten years having its plot relegated to a few Cliff's Notes in the online manual to make way for endless battle scenes against the same three monsters. Good work dumbing down yet another entire game genre, you hacks.

Venturing a bit further down the one and only beaten path, we meet an elf guy with a big sword (whom I affectionately named "Legolas") and some schmuck named "Wesley" (whom I disparagingly named "Wesley Crusher"). We stop to talk to them, learning along the way that Legolas is a mage-hunter. It's never brought up in the dialog itself, but it happens to be one of my character's dialog choices, so I'm going with it. Hey, you take what you can get with the Codex system in place.

Spoony: Penalty flag. Establish important character traits IN THE DIALOG, not in a menu choice.

As we stop and yammer on, we suddenly get ambushed by about twenty more skeletons. Yeah, not very wise to shoot the breeze whilst you're surrounded by undead hordes, you numbskulls. In the midst of the fighting, Wesley Crusher gets mortally wounded. Legolas' only response to this is repeating "the Order dictates" several times.


After a scene that tries its hardest to be emotional, but fails since we knew this guy for about two minutes and never even exchanged a single paragraph of dialog, Wesley Crusher dies. Farewell Wesley Crusher, we (literally) hardly knew ye.

Then, as we waste more time talking about the poor chump's death, fifty more skeletons appear and attack! This time they're also accompanied by "Bolters", which is probably the stupidest possible way of saying that they use crossbows. Honestly guys, what was wrong with "Archer" or "Marksman"? "Bolter" just sounds really stupid.

Spoony: I know I was ripping on you for being unoriginal with the class choices, but come on, bolters? Did that even sound good as you were writing it? I can't imagine it did.

At some point we're presented with a branching path. I thought this may have offered us an opportunity to take a harder or easier path, thereby providing us with an optional extra challenge, a touch of free choice (gasp!) and maybe even some replay value, but nope. My hopes are immediately dashed as I find that each and every dead end that doesn't take us further along in the story just leads to a treasure chest. Our developers apparently copied notes from Final Fantasies ten and thirteen. Really, guys? Of all the games you could have copied notes from to improve Dragon Age 2 over its predecessor, you decided to crib from the two worst Final Fantasy games to date?

Spoony: If you thought Mass Effect's railroaded gameplay was severely detrimental to the overall experience, guess what? Dragon Age 2's overall design is even more linear and padded beyond belief just to make it even more unbearable! Have fun!

It's also around this point that we're made aware of the ability to program your party's AI - like in Final Fantasy XII, you specify a trigger condition, and once that condition is met, that party member will automatically cast a spell, attack an enemy, and so forth. However, any strategic aspect this may have applied to the game is immediately squashed as you quickly figure out that the game automatically programs in new AI routines for you every time your characters level up and gain new skills, so there's really no point in even giving you the option. Even better yet, you inexplicably cannot tell your party members to use a potion when they're low on health. For that you have to pause the game, manually select that character, click the potion button, and win an invisible dice roll that determines whether or not he'll actually listen to your command or just ignore you completely and get mowed down. They also seem quite fond of ignoring your other commands, be it ones programmed in via the menu or ones you manually order them to do. Seriously, there's about a 50% chance they'll just do whatever the hell they want even after you give them a direct order to do something else.

Spoony: Yeah. Say what you want about Final Fantasy XII, haters: that game just handed Dragon Age 2 its own ass in the design department. At least when you gave a direct order in that game, your character would actually carry it out. Every single time.

Anyway, this group of monsters proves to be little threat (big surprise). We also quickly figure out that our heroes' health fully regenerates after each and every battle, meaning that this game's difficulty is about on par with playing Kingdom Hearts 2 on the Easy setting. Or perhaps Fable 3, a game people have reportedly completed without ever dying and while using as little as two health potions throughout its entire twelve-hour run. God, I hate fucking Fable. It's the only RPG franchise even more vacuous, banal and marketed to nine year olds than this one.

Wait, nevermind.

Getting back on track, we stop and talk yet again (uggghhhh) and get ambushed yet again (uuuuuuuuuuugggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh). However, the enemies have now started playing dirty - like in Goldeneye, as long as you're not actively pointing the camera at an area, enemies can spawn in from that area. And since the camera is always forced into a super close-up view situated immediately behind your character so that you have to pause the game every three seconds and re-situate it just to see what the hell is going on, that gives them plenty of wiggle room. However, this hardly makes the game any more challenging because the enemy AI is still complete garbage - they make absolutely no attempt to come at you with any sort of strategy or formation, they just pick a character, run up to them and swing away until either they or their chosen target dies.

Spoony: Even Doom had monsters more formidable than this. They weren't much smarter, sure, but at least in large groups they could cover for each others' weaknesses and pose a genuine threat to you. There was also a lot more variation to the combat in Doom, whereas in Dragon Age 2 every fight feels exactly the goddamn same.

After killing about a hundred more skeletons, I attempt to move on, only to find that my characters' mother and sister have frozen in place and stopped moving. Attempting to talk to them to jostle them out of it proves fruitless, and I can't take manual control or change their AI programming because they're not technically party members. Shoddy, glitchy programming at its finest, EA. But I guess it wouldn't be one of your games without tons of corner-cutting due to a rushed development schedule.

Well, if they don't care about their own lives, I don't either. I move on without them, only to have them teleport right behind me in the cutscene. But surprise, an ogre attacks and punks dear sister out with a boulder in a rather hilarious moment.

I guess this serves as our demo's "boss fight", because the ogre is the only enemy to pose any kind of threat thus far. He actually does fairly decent damage, and my ice-stun spell doesn't seem to work on him either. In fact, he actually manges to wipe out my party due to their stubborn refusal to use potions when low on health, but since this game is easy as dirt, we're given the option to continue the fight from the beginning with no ill effects. I guess all those diligent quicksaves I made were entirely pointless, then.

Spoony: Do you remember how in Baldur's Gate - you know, the game Dragon Age is supposedly a spiritual successor to? - you were quicksaving constantly because any battle could go catastrophically wrong or you could trigger a trap that would wipe out your main character instantly and end the game? Yeah, Dragon Age will have none of that on its watch. No challenge, no feeling of satisfaction when a change of tactics allowed you to overcome that group of monsters that gave you so much trouble, no reward for being careful and diligent instead of just charging headlong into everything in your path, NOTHING. They might as well just start the game at the "you win" screen and cut the seventy or so hours of pointless filler.

Anyway, the fight goes much smoother the second time around, for the most part. My allies still actively refuse to use a potion about 50% of the time when I tell them to do, so we lost one guy. But regardless, the remaining two of us manage to take down the ogre, and since we won, everyone is immediately revived at full health. Whoop de do.

Cue yet another scene that fails to invoke emotion because, once again, we established basically nothing about this character and she was in our party for less than ten minutes. The expressionless character models and dull, unemotive voice acting certainly doesn't do it any favors either. My character (quite wisely) states that we should save our mourning for later and get the fuck out of dodge before another horde of skeletons appears - it's not like they attack us every time we stop to talk or anything!

Oh, and as soon as we finished talking, Mom teleported back to the bottom of the cliff despite being right alongside us only seconds before. Hooray for terrible programming.

Anyway, guess what happens next.

Go on, guess.

No, really, do it.


Ready for this?


But lucky for us, the Deus ex Machina dragon is here to save the day, swooping down, bathing the cliff in flame and killing all of them. Then the dragon turns into... someone else we've never seen before! Yes, we're in for the longest, talkiest scene yet that still manages to not explain anything we don't already know. And yet again, the wooden acting and the fact that DeMD is trying her hardest to sound like a Disney villain does not make this any more compelling.

DeM Dragon: Yackity yackity blah blah yak yak blah blah blah yak yak.

Out of boredom at the dry dialog, replete with monotone voicework and the actors' incredibly fake accents vanishing and reappearing from sentence to sentence, I decide to (gasp!) roleplay a bit. Yeah, I know the game isn't built for any actual storytelling outside of thinly-veiled excuses to throw a dozen more monsters in your path every eight seconds, but I came here looking for a Role Playing game, and I'm going to at least pretend that there's one on offer.

After a few quicksaves and reloads reveal that none of my choices have any effect whatsoever (not even garnering an alternate line of dialog from other characters a good 70% of the time), I eventually give up and decide to play a bipolar character by picking random choices every time I get one. So one sentence I'm angry and hostile, the next I'm making bad wisecracks, and the next I'm a stoic hero type. Not that any of it will have any lasting effect on the proceedings - this is a Bioware game, after all. The story events, with maybe one or two minor variations, will always play out the exact same way regardless of your choices. Hell, you can even be a baby-stabbing asshole the whole game and still get the "good guy" ending at the last minute if you make the right choice at the final dialog! Compare that to Fallout, Deus Ex or even Tactics Ogre, where every choice you make has palpable consequences and will radically affect the way you play through the game and what ending you ultimately receive. It's an especially grave sin when you consider that all of those games came out in the late nineties while Dragon Age 2 came out more than a decade later. But I suppose no amount of technological improvement can improve lazy game design and hackneyed writing.

DeM Dragon: Yackity yackity blah blah yak yak blah blah blah yak yak LOOKOUTASKELETON.
Legolas: Oh no, I've got skeleton blood on me. Now I'm fated to turn into one of them like in Axe Cop.

Now we have the hokey scene from every zombie movie ever where they have to kill one of the cast before he becomes a zombie. Also worth noting is that this is the third forced emotional death scene in almost as many minutes! Was this game written by a human or just a machine that randomly assembles trite cliches into a plotline? Whatever, I don't care. Cue the hokey music as we stab him in the gut (which, unlike every other scene so far, is conspicuously absent of exaggerated Mortal Kombat blood splatter). We then promptly move on to the next scene - those same two unnamed people talking. Again. Since the game doesn't seem interested in naming them or explaining them at all, I've dubbed them "Fat Guy" and "Megaboobs Pimplechin".

Spoony: *Sigh* This demo is just one big fucking Moebius loop - as soon as you think it's done, it just starts all over again! Hey EA, If I wanted a game where all you do is fight endless waves of braindead enemies while contending with some of the most unresponsive controls ever programmed and yet never feel any sense of accomplishment for it, I'd play Dynasty Warriors. At least Koei is up front with the fact that their latest game is a thoughtlessly phoned-in cash cow rather than hyping it up as a "worthy successor" to one of the greatest PC RPGs of all time.

Cue another uncompressed FMV with stolen artwork as we emerge in a completely different area, fighting a completely different set of enemies, with a completely different set of party members, and zero explanation is given as to what led us to this point. There's no point in explaining anyway, because all that's really changed are a few textures - the enemies are the same mindless drones that swarm in and quickly get mowed down (they're just wearing suits and called "Thieves" now), and instead of fighting in a generic barren hillside, we're fighting on a cobblestone road. Within minutes, the whole town square is bathed in blood and my team is none the worse for wear.

Spoony: So... where are the guards? isn't it their JOB to break up these sort of skirmishes in their town? Why are Fat Guy and Megaboobs in my party now? Who are we fighting? Why are we fighting them? You couldn't spare a few lines of narration or about three seconds of that cutscene to fill us in even a little? Or do I have to go digging through the Codex to get filled in on the basic tenets of the fucking plot again?

I suppose I shouldn't ask intelligent questions of this game, since EA's development team has repeatedly proven that their staff consists solely of 13-year-old caffeine-addicted metalheads whose only measure of a game's quality is how many people and monsters get messily splattered within (and the more plot narrative, gameplay and realism sacrificed just to show more guts flying, the better). Not to mention that their marketing department insists that all of their games are designed and marketed toward two very specific people:

Our next stop is some generic temple where we meet... some guy we don't know (our hammiest voiceover job yet, incidentally) who holds a grudge against Megaboobs. Why, you might ask? I don't know, but - holy shit - I actually have the option of asking him what's going on!

Spoony: Plot exposition IN THE GAME ITSELF? Amazing!

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no context to put anything he says in due to the plot being truncated for the demo and further truncated by the hated Codex, so I'm not much wiser for having asked. But it's the thought that counts. Immediate shift back to juvenile mode as Megaboobs rather abruptly tosses a knife into some poor woman's throat, resulting in an exaggerated bloody splatter.

Spoony: Yeah, guys, milk that "M" rating for all its worth. Lord knows it's the only thing your games have going for them, and only then if you're eleven years old and pause the game right before all the violent scenes just to squick your parents out when they enter the room.

Cue yet another boring combat scene. This one would be just as unremarkable as the rest, save for the fact that my character abruptly drops dead for no real reason in the interim. At least, that's what I thought at first. After dispatching the boss, my characters immediately dashed behind my fallen corpse and I discovered the culprit - about seven other bad guys spawned in behind us, got wedged in the doorway like the Three Stooges due to crappy pathfinding AI, and shot my backside full of arrows.

We're not done with the bad AI yet though, oh no. One goon finally breaks free of the group, dashes straight past my fighter, and doesn't even attempt to stop said fighter while he follows behind him and hits him repeatedly in the backside with a gigantic Highlander sword. This would all be hilarious if I didn't know that millions of people were going to plunk down good money for this amateur-level shit in a month and a half.

My hero is magically revived after the battle once more as Megaboobs states she wants to go after some magical Macguffin next, and that she'll be waiting for me to booty call her at the local inn. Gee, I wonder if they just shoehorned that line in so they could validate all of the claims they were making a game with "mature content"? It's certainly not because the characters have shown any particular attachment to one another, or that the game has shown any sign of things like tact, subtlety, and intellect - you know, things that generally imply maturity.

Spoony: But I suppose it's not as bad as "The Witcher", a game where every character jams at least six instances of the word "fuck" into every sentence they speak, makes constant references to sodomy, rape and genital mutilation, and which gives you collectible trading cards every time you put another notch on your character's belt. Yes, I'm serious. And this is supposed to be an "adult-oriented" RPG. Sorry guys, it really undermines the adult focus when everyone in your game curses like a twelve-year-old desperately trying to sound "tough" and one of its primary goals is collecting porn of fictional characters. "Adult" games don't pander to thirteen year olds like that. Stupid, worthless, childish garbage.

Cue closing cinematic, which is just another collage of disjointed scenes that make no sense out of context.

Spoony: Ugh. In terms of gameplay, this is only slightly more bearable than the first game, and that's only because the combat here doesn't drag nearly as much. On every other front, it somehow actually became worse - its overall design and story have nothing substantive to offer (and in fact, take a great many pains to actively insult the player's intelligence). It's a rushed-out, dumbed-down copy of a dumbed-down copy of one of the greatest PC RPGs ever made, and Bioware's staff should be ashamed that they've even allowed their brand to degrade to this point. I honestly doubt they even care, though - who needs to actually expend precious time and effort on their game when they're backed by the EA cartel? You can churn out any piece of crap you want and still enjoy millions of sales and glowing reviews in every gaming publication in existence. Ah, the joys of aggressive advertising. And outright theft.

(Oh, and lecturing people on what constitutes "Mature behavior" while you consistently churn out childish shit like this? Yeah, that's a laugh, EA.)

So if you like dry and poorly acted dialog, painfully generic and predictable storylines, characters with all the depth of a skillet, a development team that desperately tries to shove its game's "M" rating down your throat every ten seconds with gratuitous violence and banal childish content, hours upon hours of tedious combat that requires no planning or strategy whatsoever, AND you're up for a big gamble on whether EA's shitty Download Manager will give you a bad product key or lock you out of your account forever for no reason at all, then Dragon Age 2 is right up your alley! Anyone else should demand something better. Immediately.

But on a final note, our demo concludes with this gem of a line:

"Think like a general, fight like a Spartan"

i don't even need to comment on how laughable that statement is.
 rawks  §  rad comments, dogg.
 ~Azul Rojo  §  at 03:21am 02/28/11
I forgot to read this. Now that I have, holy crap. You deserve a pile of your favorite cookies after playing through that mess.

I was sick of that plot encyclopedia shit after 2 hours of FF13. Extra long cutscenes get annoying when they're strung together, too. Either write a book (or comic), make a game, or make a movie. Don't try to smash all 3 together. It just turns into a pile of shit every time. Not that some game companies care, of course. If they did, we wouldn't get these terrible games. Or maybe it's the players that are to blame. They keep buying this crap, which gives companies more money to work with!

Wait. Shit. I bought Sims 3, and got some expansion packs as gifts. I may be partially to blame for this mess. The game's so fun to play, but then the money spent on it goes to EA so they can make other stuff. Damn it. FUCK YOU, EA. FUCK YOU.
 ~Avatar  §  at 01:06pm 02/28/11
That tagline makes me imagine a group of middle schoolers huddled around one kid's mom's COMPAQ playing the game, completing it, seeing the tagline, then they all parrot out the "this is SPARTA" scene from 300 line-for-line from memory and then high-five.
 ~Spoony Spoonicus  §  at 04:41pm 02/28/11
At least I didn't pay for the full version of the game before realizing it sucks. This time, anyway. I still want my f'ing money back for Dead Space, Dragon Age 1 and the Mass Effect games.
 ~Spoony Spoonicus  §  at 07:44pm 03/14/11
UPDATE: As if the EA conglomerate's strategy of dumbing down their games for fifth graders and buying dicksucking reviews in every single media outlet ever wasn't bad enough, now we've got Bioware employees literally writing and up-voting sockpuppet reviews of their own games. Real classy, guys.

Proof and a News Post confirming it.

At least I can take comfort in knowing that I'm not the only one who sees through the shallow farce that Bioware has become - one look at the overwhelming number of negative User Reviews confirms that quite nicely.
 ~Commander Ladd  §  at 12:18pm 03/15/11
At least they're not challenging their critics to boxing matches. Yet.
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