While we work on crafting our review of Dragon Age 2 here in the Castle, I figured today's release of the open beta of the Facebook game Dragon Age Legends, developed by EA2D, was in order. I've been a part of the closed beta for a little shy of a month now, so I will be using that experience mostly to inform how we can expect the game to advance, but focusing mostly on the state it is in right now.
I will admit to some confusion as to why the game has released now, a week after the game to which it's tied. While the game seems as if it will grow legs of its own and not just be the game that unlocks items you can use in Dragon Age 2 (N.B. You can only unlock 4/5 at this time, and those four can be unlocked in a handful of play sessions), the way it has been advertised and handled has not given that impression.
The marketing is a bit of a concern, but I'm growing increasingly disenchanted with EA's attempts at such. Saying you're the first 'real game' on Facebook seems as if it's trying to throw down a gauntlet.
So, let's examine it fully before you decide whether you want to pick it up.
To start, the game is a mix between a somewhat simplified sRPG and Castle sim. Each element aids the other, and both are needed to advance.
You start off selecting from the three available classes (warrior, rogue, or mage), customize your character, and go through the tutorial, which will already unlock items for your Dragon Age 2 game if you link it to your BioWare Social Network account, or EA account. Doing so will also cause the game to examine your account to see if you unlock bonus items for the Facebook game by owning various other EA games (Mass Effect, Dead Space, and Dragon Age are the primary culprits--and I believe in the case of the former two, only their sequels). This all seems like a lot of information to just enjoy a Facebook game, and makes it seem more like a marketing ploy, but the game does continue.
Battle is a tactical set-up, where you and your enemies have two columns each, with a total of four rows. So far, I've only ever been allowed to bring up to two companions with me in battle. The game does provide you with six companions, two from each class (and Hawke from DA2, if you own the game), but otherwise these companions are your friends who are also playing the game. Having a variety of character classes is best, as warriors can soak up damage and/or wade through enemies, while mages and rogues can crowd control and dish out a lot of damage on either column.
Unfortunately, the class balance as of right now seems as if it needs more work, as I went to their forums and gave out my Facebook account so people could add me, and see mostly bow-wielding rogues and mages. Warriors are usually not tanks either, as most go the two-handed route for maximum damage. The combat is best handled by incapacitating your foes or killing them outright, not playing a waiting game, or hiding behind a shield--but I may not have fully explored those options as yet. As they are still working on patches, tweaking, and consider themselves in beta (as the majority of Facebook games seem to do), I would expect some nerfs and upgrades as time goes on, and as has been evidenced thus far.
There is a leveling system, and the skills it uses are a mixture of those you can see in the Dragon Age series along with ones specifically suited to its battlefield layout. Each class has various trees in which it can specialize. Rogues can choose trees that enhance dual-wielding or using a bow, along with a number of other skills. Warriors can specialize in two-handed weapons or sword and shield, or general combat boosts. Mages can summon, heal, use the elements, or rely on entropy (I spent the most time with the mage class). Unless there has been a further tutorial system, it can be a bit confusing. You earn one skill point per level, and can spend it in a new skill/spell, or use it to upgrade a previous one. Some skills and spells indicate they improve with every three levels, which I thought was a reflection of my level, but indicates you need to spend three more skill points to see a further increase in that skill's use. It generally needs some work in its descriptors.
Friends? Bringing friends into battle also earns them gold. When they log in, they can visit your castle, open a chest, and receive money. Recently, the amount of money you can find in battles seems to have lessened, so this seems the most reliable way to earn money. There are also plans to be able to use friends' castles later on, but as yet, I haven't seen any of that in play.
Items in game can be found or bought in the game's store (which costs Facebook credits). Finding items in battle is a bit confusing, as I often find items that are far too high for me, and therefore I hold on to items, hoping I might find something more useful on the way. Players who purchase items from the store definitely have an advantage, but I haven't found it absolutely necessary. Having friends has been thus far.
Needing friends is largely because the difficulty scale ramps up considerably and quickly. Not having a variety of friends who are higher or equivalent level can hamstring progress, as the NPCs auto-level, and therefore their capabilities may not be what you need.
Combat costs energy, which rejuvenates at one per every four minutes. Using friends puts them on a timer until they may be used in battle again; if they fall in combat, the time is upwards of six hours, otherwise it's closer to the two hour range. While this may be an annoyance for some who go in expecting a 'real game' (the quotation marks indicate an eyeroll, just so you're aware), it serves well in the fact that the plot as it exists so far is there to move things forward, but hasn't been really giving me much information about which I care any way or another. I gather there is a viscount I am helping, but the game hasn't really communicated to me effectively (and they seem to add more as time goes on).
As of right now, there also isn't a ton to explore. This is to be addressed as each week a new quest and/or area is released, but it also means rushing through will just result in waiting for combat markers on the map to respawn so you can fight them again for XP. It's best taken in small doses.
The castle provides a way for you to craft items that will aid you in combat. Potions, bombs, and kits of various sorts can be made to heal, damage, and cure of various status ailments. You spend money to upgrade certain rooms, build new crafting stations and places for workers to live, and perhaps an augmenting station for either the stations or to make workers happy. There appear to be more rooms in wait, as they just released a store room that increases your inventory capacity.
As of right now, it's still very clear the game is in beta, and while it ties in commercially with the Dragon Age franchise, the story is not one I would recommend yet if you want to explore more of the lore behind Thedas. I have enjoyed it for what it is: a small distraction that has a few of the elements I really enjoy in an sRPG. It shows potential to be something other fans of such may enjoy, so for those who may be interested, I might recommend keeping an eye on it.