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Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions: Flemeth the Dominatrix

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I did something today that I haven’t done in quite awhile: Download and play a game demo. For me, that’s unheard of. My game budget is small enough that I pretty much know if I want to play a game or not and if I know I’m going to play it, I don’t want to spend the time or effort to muck around with a demo. That said, I wanted to write some about the upcoming Dragon Age 2 release, and with the demo freshly on the intertubes, I thought maybe I should break my rule and check it out. I really don’t know what to think about it. On one hand, there’s definitely some Dragon Age flavor to it that I liked. On the other, they’ve turned Flemeth into a dominatrix.

Think I’m kidding? Click through to find out…

Okay, there are more interesting things to talk about with this demo than Flemeth, but I made a promise and, besides that, I think it sort of underscores Bioware’s apparent mindset with this game; which is to say, lowest common denominator may just be the order of the day. Here we have a screencap of Flemeth from Dragon Age 1.

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Ooooh, hooo, witch-ay woman.

Flemeth, if you didn’t play the first game, is the Witch of the Wilds. A thing that people fear. As you can see here she’s old and not particularly attractive, although we’re told she was once quite beautiful. Oh, and she turns into a dragon every now and then. A neat trick, that. Here we have a grab of Flemeth from Dragon Age 2.

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Not seen here: The rest of the ensemble. The gauntlets are quite a sight, I can tell you. Sadly, I missed my chance to grab that and didn’t want to go back.

Is that even the same character? That’s not a graphical upgrade, that’s an extreme home makeover, one that doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense given that the in-game time line overlaps between these portions of Dragon Age 1 and Dragon Age 2. At most, these images are days apart. Why change her so radically? You know why. We all know why. But let’s go ahead and say it, just in the interests of clarity: Someone at Bioware (or parent EA) sat in a meeting and said, “Pretty that wench up.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing.

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Now, I’m all for pretty girls in games. If you’re gonna stare at characters for hours on end, they may as well look good, but I think we all know Dragon Age 2 is not going to be lacking in that department. Just in the demo there’s two young busty ladies for undersexed males to ogle and imagine all sorts of polygonal depravity. Guys, just leave Flemeth as Flemeth. There was nothing wrong with her in the first game, there would have been nothing wrong with keeping her look consistent in this game. In fact, it should have been deemed necessary given the time line. This is just silly and condescending. It irritates me.

Speaking of being irritated, here’s a random collection of thoughts I wrote down as I played through the demo:

– Choosing your character is a straight up rip-off of the Diablo 2 character selection screen. Fine, whatever. I don’t so much care, I just think it’s interesting. At the same time, three classes (each with male and female variants), is quite a departure from Dragon Age. Yes, yes, I’ve read all about the demands of the story and voicing and all that. Fine then, but if you’re going that route, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t act surprised people think you’re Mass Effecting the franchise.

– Fireball effects sound like laser blasts. Again, if you’re worried about the Mass Effectification (yay for new words!) of Dragon Age, this is also not an encouraging sign.

– All character attributes and skills (that I could see) relate only to combat except cunning (which also affects lockpicks and traps). Maybe I missed something or there’s stuff not in the demo, but I saw no skills at all related to dialog or any other non-combat action. This isn’t a ginormous leap from DA, but is a further step away from having character attributes and skills matter for more than how well you swing a sword or cast a spell. When people talk about this game going the action RPG route, this is yet another reason why.

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– I had hoped for return of combat formations as we used to have with the Infinity Engine games. Didn’t expect it, but you never know, right? Yeah, no such luck.

– As most of you probably already know, the overhead tactical camera view we PC players so enjoyed is gone. Bioware says we won’t miss it. They’re either deluding themselves or just flat out lying. I cannot express how much this irritates me. It took a half hour of fighting in the demo for me to stop rolling back on the mouse wheel hoping that this time the camera would somehow pull back just a little bit further. The loss of the camera won’t kill the game, and I’ll adjust, but man does it suck not to have it. It makes assessing the field of battle frustrating. I still don’t know how anyone can play this on a console, but then, I’m a snob.

– There’s a ton of fighting in this demo. Walk 20 yards, fight a battle in which you’re outnumbered 3 to 1. Rinse. Repeat. This is hopefully just a demo thing. Dragon Age on the PC was like this in some spots and not in others and I’m assuming the same here, but the yellow flag is up. Also, there’s an Ogre encounter that is flat out boring because it takes so long to kill him. (Well, it took me awhile because I was down to my last conscious character.) Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, health potion, stab, stab, stab. This went on for like 5 minutes.

– Isabella the rogue pirate lady is… quite something.

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– The persistent blood splatter after combat has not been adjusted one teency little bit and, thusly, it remains incredibly stupid. I’m fine with a little spatter, but there’s a difference between grit and gore. This is gore.

– Her makeover aside, Flemeth’s appearance really saved the demo for me. That was the point where the dialog, presentation, etc. started to come together and I started to get interested in what was going on and where it was going. There’s a beautifully executed scene I tried to grab a screen cap of and failed (wrong button) that has to do with an infected character. Hopefully there’s a lot more from where that came.

As I look this over I realize this comes off incredibly negative. And there’s an extent to which that’s how I feel about it. There are a lot of things here that I don’t like, but a fair chunk of that is probably stuff I’ll get used to. It’s much too soon to say they’ve Mass Effected the game, but at the same time, there’s absolutely nothing here to dispel that notion either. This feels like an action RPG. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle. I quite like Mass Effect 1 and 2 as well as several fantasy-based action RPGs. That said, Dragon Age: Origins was not an action RPG and guess what? It sold just fine, thank you very much. I don’t see the need for some of these changes. There’s room in the market, and in Bioware’s profile, for RPG types to be differentiated by more than just their setting.

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

22 thoughts to “Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions: Flemeth the Dominatrix”

  1. I had the same feeling after I played the demo, Xbox 360. You can definitely tell that Mass Effect influenced the pace of the game. I was also wtf about Flemeth. I thought that I missed something, and believe for a second that it was sent before the events of DA 1. Then I remember that this was taking place around the same time DA 1 (though me and my friend loved that Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was voice acting for Flemeth. I don’t remember if she vo for Flemeth in DA1 but she felt perfect for this new Flemeth.

  2. Did they cast Joan Allen as Flemeth or something?

    I’m pretty interested in this, I liked the first one a lot. But it did feel almost like a last hurrah for a certain kind of RPG that this game already prety clearly does look like very much. Which isn’t a bad thing…frankly, if they Mass Effected it, it could do the game some good.

    But just wait for the “they dumbed it down” cries and the bellowing about how there’s no role-playing…as if futzing around with numbers and switching equipment off and on is somehow role-playing…

  3. I dunno about dumbing down but removing the tactical overhead view for PC gamers sucks, period. I played the whole damn game like that on the PC.

    Removing features from a platform base is irksome. I played DA on the 360 as well and the game was much easier than on the PC so I didn’t miss the overhead view as much. But for the PC? It was vital, and simply made sense.

    As for the ‘as if futzing around with numbers and switching equipment off and on is somehow role-playing…’ on that we completely agree .

  4. There’s a difference between simplifying and just stripping out mechanics and systems, though. If the game wants to, for example, make it simpler for me to don my best equipment for a given situation, I’m all for it. One thing I didn’t note as a positive is there are now dedicated buttons on the bar for health and stamina potions. No more dragging those to the skill bar for each and every character in your party. That’s nice. Bravo. But taking out systems, like say, a skill(s) that affects your dialog options? That’s gameplay. Role playing may not just be about numbers, but a big component of it sure is about how you build your character affecting more than just combat.

  5. My initial impression of the demo went something like the last panel of this comic.

    I’ve mellowed on it since — the simple fact that your sister’s ludicrous bosom shrinks several sizes between the legend and the “real” version made me feel like there’s at least a sliver of cleverness left — but that demo was just terrible for enticing a fan of the PC version to shell out on the game. The fact that the camera can’t ever come unstuck from a character makes positioning and targeting spells area of effect spells a chore.

    Couple that with the terrible encounter design — walk into arena, get waves of foder thrown at you, rinse, repeat ad naseum — and the cranked up speed and there’s not much for anyone who dug the tactical combat in Origins here.

  6. Actually, you raise a good point with regards to narrator versus “reality.” Perhaps that could explain Flemeth? Not that it would make it any better. I have a creeping fear that the concept of the “unreliable narrator” is going to be used to justify any element of the game accused of being too over the top.

  7. I definitely agree that systems, mechanics, and core gameplay shouldn’t be messed with, my comment about Mass Effecting the game is more about the streamlining and winnowing down of some of the more clunky, old fashioned administrative bits. As for the overhead tactical view- I played on console, I wouldn’t know. But if it’s not essential to the gameplay, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a big loss. If the combat model doesn’t need it, I can see why it’d get the axe. So to speak.

    Soren’s comments above about the lack of tactical combat are bothersome, because one of the things I really liked a lot in DA:O is the tactical combat (and I was playing on a console). There was one bit I vividly remember where I was using my character to set traps along this hallway and I had the other party members set up in a pretty elaborate ambush. I lured the baddies out and pretty much dragged them through hell.

    But DA2 may not be that kind of game…as I alluded, that’s really an old fashioned kind of gameplay. I love that, but the reality of it is that BioWare is moving toward the more cinematic, action style of ME2 and it’s reflected in this, it seems.

    I’ll miss the old style, no doubt. I grew up playing the D&D Gold Box games, the Ultima series, and so forth but that style of RPG gaming is becoming much more of a niche thing.

    As for the numbers game, stats in an RPG are supposed to be a measure of ability that connects with the story. Too often in video games purporting to be RPGs, it’s an efficiency exercise that may as well reduce the game to a spreadsheet. I’m not into micromanagement, and that was one place where DA:O was a little old fashioned in a bad way. I like what they did with ME2 and reduced some of the stats-futzing for more direct and transparent character progression and equipment. That’s some of the ME2 influence I’d like to see in this one.

    I dunno, I wasn’t going to try the demo and just buy it, maybe I ought to check it out first.

  8. Sexy dominatrix Flemeth is in the real version, so I don’t think that excuse flies unless you’re prepared to label anything in the game as being part of an unreliable narration.

    Granted, it might be. Supposedly, this is the story the dwarf heard from the protagonist, and he might be bringing his own biases to how a witch of the wild should look, but ehh. If Bioware wants to say something about how we mythologize events with that framing device, that only works if the legend is less outlandish than the real story. Sexy dominatrix Flemeth definitely belongs in the legend.

    I guess we’ll know soon enough if it’s just pandering or actually has some thought behind it.

  9. I thought it was a clever design to have Flemeth appear as a prophet for the Grey Warden in DA:O and a herald of sorts in DAII. Cannot wait for my pre-purchase to download in 10 days.

  10. “At most, these images are days apart.”

    I was under the impression DA2 covers about 10 years. Does it pick up where DA:O left off (which would mean this is a new Flementh)? Or do we know that the part of the demo overlaps with DA:O and thus the days apart comment makes sense?

  11. Played it. I know it’s just a demo, but…

    It moved even further away from what I want in an RPG. The Flemeth thing…dumb. The ridiculous look of Isabella? Dumb. The speed of the combat? Dumb. Even the voice acting, which honestly wasn’t terrible…not enough to lift things over the hump for me.
    (Yes Kate Mulgrew did a great job, but the rest? Generic and forgettable.)

    Franchise moving in the wrong direction guys.

    Good Luck with it.

    I’m out. Won’t be buying it, at least not for a long while. (Perhaps if I get really bored in the future after the price has dropped I’ll pick it up.)

    Too bad.

    I actually can’t remember the last time a demo turned me off this much.
    I suspect I’m just getting too old to even remotely fall into their target audience. Oh well.

    Perhaps The Witcher 2 will be better.

  12. I feel exactly like you do Todd, It’s no wonder both lead designers of Origin’s left not liking the initial direction DA2 was going. The demo makes the game feel like ME2 with swords, juvenile dialog, terrible camera and the list goes on and on. Funny how lead designer kept trying to reassure people the last few months that the game wasn’t going to be dumbed down and streamlined beyond belief, yet that’s exactly what happened.

    Is it safe to say Bioware as a studio are a bunch of sell outs yet or do we need to wait and see TOR bomb first before that can be determined?

  13. You’re right that it does take place over a long time span, but the beginning of the game, where the demo picks up, takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Blight sacking of Lothering. So, basically, about the same time the Greywarden has left the wilds and Lothering behind, the Champion is leaving Lothering for the wilds, where the Flemeth encounter shown here occurs. It’s not the end of the world. I just think it’s unnecessary.

  14. I hadn’t heard they’d lost a couple of lead designers from the Origins team. That’s a bit of a bummer, but probably not surprising.

    I wouldn’t go as far as calling them sell outs as I really am open to seeing what else the game has to offer. Demos are demos and there’s only so much you can glean from them. That said, it really does feel like they’re moving in a direction that, for this franchise, is going to be disappointing to the people who felt like this was striving to be a modern Baldur’s Gate (myself included). Is what it is, I suppose, and certainly the early returns are disappointing.

  15. Yeah both Brent Knowles and Dan Tudge (lead producers on Origins) are no longer at Bioware. I guess calling them sellouts is somewhat harsh but I honestly feel lied to, Mike Laidlaw assured people it would play like Origins, and that they weren’t Mass Effecting the game though thats exactly what the demo feels like to me. The camera changes alone make the idea of tactically managing my party impossible for me. Along with removal of party armor customization and the like. I still plan to play it to give them the benefit of the doubt as I’ve been a Bioware fan since day one. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say the demo has left a very bad taste in my mouth on the full version going forward.

    So much for “Spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate” So glad that lasted all of one game in the series.

  16. I played it yesterday and got very similar impressions. I feel kind of upset after playing it – more than I should be, probably.
    It bothers me that the demo feels like a complete regression of what we had in DA1. It’s not like DA1 suffered from the same sort of poor design decision like ME1 that would have warranted to change or “streamline” so much of the gameplay. DA1 had interesting mechanics, a refreshing level of challenge. I think they had a good premise upon which they could have made another great RPG.
    All the flashy pew pew pew (those laser sounds are annoying and stupid) and what’s with the spastic combat. It also seems like there is almost no point to the different magic spells. There was no tactical use to them at all. I was just using them all at the same time so I could get the most damage out of them. Where is the point I have to decide what spell to use in this situation against a particular type of enemy.

    The art direction moved towards more ridiculousness. The class selection screen alone made me cringe with the ultra huge sword of the warrior class and the overall ridiculous design of the armour with all the little details sticking out.
    Isabella is just plain dumb. First of all, has anyone at Bioware even thought that maybe, just maybe, her boobs are too damn big?! Sure, Bioware has a long tradition of making overly sexualised female characters, but I think they are becoming more and more ridiculous and plain juvenile. At the end of the fight when Isabella invites you to her place – is that what Bioware tries to shows us as deep story telling. And what’s with the rest of the “harrrrdiharrrharrr” pirate design of her cloths.

    Because I was in such a mood I also couldn’t get over the Uncanny Valley look of ALL of the characters. Even there they completely failed to make any sort of improvements since DA1.

    I just don’t see it in the demo. I am generally against calling something as “dumbed-down” since I can usually see the benefits of a more streamlined design. However, this is blatantly dumbed down.

    *hyperventilates* its just a demo, calm down, just a demo …

    :sad&angryface!:

  17. I think it may be time for folks like me to realize that the “Good Old Days” of the Black Isle RPGs, the tactical overviews, party formations, etc are simply a relic from an older era of games. Modern gamers seem content with having things so streamlined that the games nearly play themselves. I was stunned that Dragon Age: Origins was so much like one of the Black Isle games, that when they announced the sequel was going more streamlined I was not surprised. The action RPG and 1st Person RPG have been eating away the more traditional PC styled RPGS for years now.

  18. I think you’re pretty much spot on in everything you wrote there. What’s so troublesome about it for me is I simply don’t grant the premise from which many developers and publishers seem to be proceeding: that gamers want RPGs to all but play themselves. I thought Origins, in addition to being a bit throwback, found a fairly happy marriage between “old” and “new” sensibilities; at the very least, a place to build from. And it sold. It sold really, really well. I don’t get this seeming industry consensus that there isn’t a market for complexity.

  19. Perhaps it is more that they see a larger market for brainless games. They see the instant gratification generation that likes loads of immediate violence and shooters and figures that any game that requires thinking makes it automatically more of a niche title.

  20. I tried playing the demo, but it got stuck on the character screen following the intro battles, so I never actually got into the meat of it. That was on console, I’ve since downloaded the PC version, but haven’t fired it up yet.

    Anyway, thanks for the clarification.

  21. First, thank you for lowering my expectations. Going in expecting another DA:O would probably have been bad in any case, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and have been looking forward to DA2.

    Regarding the lowered expectations, I didn’t buy ME2 exactly because everyone said it had been dumbed down and streamlined beyond belief. The result of looking at it with a bit of dread resulted in me being thoroughly pleasantly surprised. There are still some horrible issues with it, but after switching back and forth between ME1 and ME2 for a while I’ve come to realize that (and to drag this back on topic) it’s not in particular the gameplay mechanics, but the underlying design issues that I dislike, but tolerate, the things in particular that I dislike but that aren’t about to change:

    1. Heroes rooting around the garbage for powerups and cash.
    2. A->B and Quest hub designs where there is no time pressure, and the narrative does a very, very poor job in creating a sense of time pressure because the optimization and completionist game pressures work to and are allowed to overwhelm the time pressure.
    3. Writing is inconsistent, it runs the gamut from occasionally brilliant to crap, which is annoying. Some of that is situational and some is just juvenile pandering – you can do the latter and have it be well written.

    That being said, if the combo-spell functions from DA:O and ME2 (biotics) have been excised that’s a very poor decision IMO. Removing the ‘affect conversation skill’ and moving it to a ME2 dialogue type will completely depend on the implementation and writing. Removing non-combat skills… I’d have to see how that works in-game – clearly moving away from its roots, but streamlining inventory made immersion easier in ME2, so it could go either way. The loss of free camera and overhead views, that I’m going to have an issue with. I’ll get used to it, but I strongly suspect that DA2 will be the second to last Bioware game I will buy (ME3 being the last).

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