I am stepping into this experience without ever having played any of the previous games in this series, so bare with me. Having said that, let it be known that I am a huge RPG fan. There’s nothing this guy doesn’t like more than some sword and board action. Well, I am more of a arching/stealthing kind of guy but you get the point.
After a 40 minute download of the 1.98 gig file I started it up, eager to get crackin skulls.
The game is developed by Bioware, a company that I am already familiar with as a fan of the Mass Effect series, and a follower of Star Wars The Old Republic(their upcoming mmo). I was rather surprised when I had to accept a ToS and another form at the main menu, apparently there is a setting enabled to give gameplay feedback, which EA will use to tweak the final release. Cool? So after looking through the settings and upping the brightness I started a play through.
You are immediately asked to pick 1 of 6(3) characters, a mage, warrior, or rogue, each have a male or female version. I ended up picking a male mage as it was the first one on the left. After a brief cutscene with a dwarf being man handled by a very scary she-beast you are thrown into a combat tutorial.
For the mage attacking takes the form of pressing buttons that are assigned to spells. A is a normal attack which can be ranged and when in melee distance is a magic imbued staff-hit. X is an ice spell which hits more than 1 foe, Y brings up the targeting mode for Fireball… this feature stops time and allows you a chance to see the action from a higher angle and aim the spell. B was Mind Blast, a sort of knockdown which also lowered aggro on the caster.
The conversation system has a small dial at the bottom with choices, not new to Bioware games. The center of the circle shows you whether your choice is good, neutral, or evil. This is handy if you can’t grasp the nuance of a situation.
When I leveled up I found that there are several stats to allocate points into, like all games with this system some are not suited for all classes. Mages should generally stay away from strength and Warriors intellect etc. Yet some stats, such as magic, have secondary effects like lowered magic damage incurred. This could be useful for hybrid specs. Along with the stat allocations I was directed to the skill tree, or more like a skill map. There were 6 seperate ‘roads’ for the mage, each having to do with a particular school of magic: Elemental, Primal, Entropy, Creation, Arcane, and Spirit.
To briefly detail each of the 3 available schools I will give an example spell/skill, there really are a lot… about 10 for each. The other 3 are locked as ‘level 99’ just so there is still some mystery to the game on purchase.
Creation: Glyph of Paralysis. The mage inscribes a glyph on the ground that paralyzes foes who cross its bounds. At level 1 paralyzes 1 enemy within 6m of cast for 4 seconds, the AoE lasts on the ground for 20 seconds, or until an enemy uses up its charges, it gains more charge and more effect as it is leveled.
Arcane: Elemental Weapons. (Aura, locks 20% of mages mana while active) While this spell is active, the caster’s staff channels its base elemental power across the entire party, enchanting the weapons of allies to give them additional damage.
Elemental: Improved Winter’s Blast. Winter’s Blast is now likely to freeze opponents and may leave some in a brittle state that warriors or rogues can exploit.
So as you can see there are several possibilities within the class building system, and hybrid builds are not only encouraged but it is highly likely they are essential.
For your party members you can set tactics, or how you want them to automate themselves. There were several ‘settings’ that you could choose, like Damage or Healer. So if you were taking more damage than you would like just set the mage in your party to his healing role and he will cast the spells from that role. It works in a Target:Condition:Action manner, here are some examples:
Self:Surrounded by 2+ enemies:Cast Mind Blast
Enemy:Cluster of 2+enemies:Cast Fireball
You can essentially build your party exactly how you like, because you control their level up points, their skills, and even how they use these skills. The party members have slightly different skill roads to differentiate them from the main character and give each its own flavor. Overall it all seemed very fluid.
Pressing the right and left bumpers toggles you through your party members, so you can live vicariously through them and try out different classes while not actually BEING one. This is something I have not encountered before, and was useful for saving low health allies by choosing them and then kiting mobs around.
The demo is played out through a Fable-like linear area, with only 1 real path. Mobs kind of just trickle down the path towards your party, never really overwhelming you. Midway through Bethany, your sister and one of your party members, is brutally murdered by a boss mob. The mob picks her up and bashes her against the ground several times, causing blood to spill out of her mouth and chest. I was really pissed off at this because I had just given her the heal spell!
Shortly after this encounter you fight another horde of mobs until a dragon interferes and blasts them all to hell. A cutscene follows with Flemeth, who just turned from a dragon to a snarky witch, asking you to help her if she helps you. Imagine that! She trusts you with a quest to deliver an amulet to some elves. And at the end of this conversation one of your party members is afflicted with the corruption and you have to choose who kills him, his wife or the player… presumably this will decide how the rest of some story line goes. It is quite a sad scene, even though minutes before the dying character was inches from killing you and your party.
Apparently the witch takes you on a boat to Kirkwell, a big city area, where you meet Isabella who asks you to watch here back in a duel, which turns into an all out free for all after the gang is ambushes. In the time that has passed your allies and yourself have gained attributes and skills, and a new dwarf archer(who is actually narrating the story) is added to your party. Isabella brings on her own problems, she has wronged Castillon, a big wig in the slaving community and his minions want her head, also she wants your member bad. Your group easily dispatches 10 or so of them, though the archer has a hard time living through encounters with such low health… it is best to have him stay in the back and cast AoEs.
This is where the demo ends, it is pretty short for such a large file. I got a good grasp on all the classes from one playthru as it let me physically control each of the 3 character types. There were tons of features that will be present in the retail version that were locked in the demo, the inventory, over half of the skills, certain dialogue. All of this adds up to more suspense than just letting everything out in the open.
This will be a great addition to the Dragon Age series, and makes me want to go back from the beginning to actually see how much new content/UI etc is in this game. I probably should have done that before writing this review but oh well, deal with it.