I recently finished my fourth playthrough of Dragon Age II
(I previously wrote about my time collecting the gameís trophies
), but only on my second of Dragon Age: Origins
. Why is that? According to public opinion among gamers (and the gamesí Metacritic scores
), Dragon Age II
is an inferior product. So why do I feel more compelled to play out Hawkeís story again and again despite having the ďbetterĒ game sitting on my shelf?
Maybe I just like bad games. I donít know. All I know is that Dragon Age II
is not the disaster people claim it is. There are things wrong with itóbig, big things. But what some people claim are its biggest weaknesses are what draw me to it time and time again.
Hawkeís got a voice and personality. Maybe I like things dumbed down, console style, but I had fewer ďoh thatís the tone they went withĒ moments with Dragon Age II
ís dialogue wheel. I felt more connected with the character just like how I grew attached to Shepard. In DAO
I feel like I made a video game character, but I never really roleplayed. There was a disconnect there.
But with DA2
I felt like it was my Hawke siding with the mages in one playthrough or my other Hawke condemning Anders in another. Hawke just has more personality than the Warden. DA2
took a risk by taking away some of the freedom when it comes to character creationóonly be a humanóno origin stories, but in my mind it creates a deeper, more fleshed out character.
The side characters are brilliant. They were good in the first game, but I think they hit their stride in the sequel. I miss Alistair as much as the next gamer, but I think that the banter between all the side characters more than makes up for his absence. I think Varric is a great character, and Merrill is a delightóshe walks that fine line between naÔve and downright ruthless when it comes to her magical abilities.
Even though the development team used the gameís single setting to cut corners and reuse assets and maps (side bar: thatís a huge glaring flaw), I think the gameís Kirkwall setting is stronger than the cross-country tour of Ferelden you get in the first game. Kirkwall has personality beyond the standard: elf camp, drawf city, and human medieval city of the first game. Sure itís pretty damn empty for being ďcrammed full of refugees,Ē but the history behind Kirkwall and the Free Marches felt much more detailed than the individual towns and locations in Ferelden.
Kirkwall is a city built on blood, fire, and chains. Itís a former slave city, itís been sacked multiple times, undergone a few revolutions, and finally it experiences the upheaval of the mages vs Templars fight in DA2
. Itís a city that has battle scars and a dark past. Thatís more than I can tell you about Lothering or Denerim. Um, Denerim is the capital and has a king and some nobles in it. Thatís about it. Kirkwall feels less like a sightseeing tour through quasi-medieval fantasyland. Personally, Iíd love to go back for a little bit during the upcoming DA3
and see how my choices affected the city.
By limiting the game to Kirkwall and the surrounding area, DA2
feels tighter than DAO
. The choice of a single setting mirrors the choice to narrow the focus and scope of the story. Again this is to the gameís benefit, but more on that later.
Make no mistake, Dragon Age II
is smaller and narrower than its predecessor, but at the same time itís the biggest game in the franchise (of two games). In Origins
you played as the Warden, a pivotal figure with magical Grey Warden powers and destined to stop the Fifth Blight. Because the game is a western RPG with all its tropes of increasing player power, for the most part, you had no doubt that youíd be successful. Oh sure you could lose and maybe get a ďbad endingĒ or certain well-loved characters might die, but your ultimate victory was undoubtedly going to be canon. I mean, otherwise the franchise is over. Everybodyís been killed by the Darkspawn. This means DAO
has high stakes, but ultimately the conclusion is fairly neat.
throws all of that awayóin a good way! Even though the story only affects the city of Kirkwall directly, the multiple endings have ramifications for the rest of the world of Thedas. In Dragon Age: Origins
you save the world. In Dragon Age II
you break the world. You just choose which side you support.
While some claim this shows a lack of player controlóand theyíre rightóit also creates a fuller experience. Yes you
control the fate of the world in Origins
, but it also limits the other characters, the queens, kings, members of the Chantry, etc. They donít get to make decisions that matter. The unique way the plot is structured in DA2
ówith all of the choices and variables leading to a pair of conclusions that both deal with a civil war between mages and Templarsóemphasizes that this is a bigger world beyond the player character.
Despite your best efforts to stop it (or encourage it!) the war between mages and Templars is going to happen, and itís going to get worst. Whether you like it or not, your Hawke broke Thedas. That feelingówhen you realize what youíve done, the culmination of all your choices throughout the gameóis so much more satisfying than simply saving the world. Iíve been there. Iíve done that.
So BioWare, I hope youíre listening. Learn from DA2
ís mistakes. No more reusing assets, okay? But donít throw it all away. Learn from DA2
ís successes too. More choices with relationships. More personality for all the characters. Do these things and make me feel like Iím affecting a living, breathing, damaged world and youíll be golden. At the very least, stay the hell away from a tri-colored ending cinematic