Informal Review: Dragon Age 2

Zel Hawke after earning his Champion armor. He's a scruffy, auburn-haired white man in his twenties, wearing pointy mage armor.

Zel Hawke after earning his Champion armor. He's a scruffy, auburn-haired white man in his twenties, wearing pointy mage armor.

I’m getting into the habit of not posting again, which tends to occur when my mood shifts down. In trying to combat that, I’m writing down some general thoughts about Dragon Age 2 that are relatively spoiler free–at least as regards specifics.

The frame narrative is used sparingly, as is the unreliable narrator. This will come as a relief for many, and in playing the game, it did for me as well. In order to utilize those elements, they would need to be at the core of the story, which is not the case here. It simply serves as a vehicle to move the plot and explain things without a conventional cutscene.

Levels are recycled. When I first read this, I thought perhaps just the environments themselves, but no, that one cave you just entered? You’ll learn the layout of it very well by the end of the game. The problem with this is multifold. First, it is wearisome going through the same level multiple times. Second, the minimap in the upper-right corner never changes to reflect which areas have been walled off this time. At the beginning this led to some confusion. Third, the level designs themselves are uninspired and dull.

Kirkwall itself is fun to tromp around in for a bit. While there are minor changes from chapter to chapter (usually skipping three years), the city sees relatively little change. This is a letdown, and is a concern. It had such potential that it squandered.

Zel talking to Anders, whose feathered back is to us. Two snark mages together? Mmmm.

Zel talking to Anders, whose feathered back is to us. Two snark mages together? Mmmm.

The game addresses mental health issues multiple times, and in a generally failing way. Most of these people are violent, and must be violently stopped. Some fall into the, “picked up item of power, went crazy” trope that fantasy seriously needs to reevaluate. It’s ignorant at best.

You can’t interact with your companions as often. The longer conversations you could have in Origins are not there anymore. However, and this is where I shift from negative concerns to positive comments, the relationship status that exists does away with meaningless gifts to game an opinion. You can still game opinions of your companions by certain actions you take, but it will affect your story. Your choice.

Instead of the focus being on building up to a relationship, the relationship I had with Anders was more concerned with the relationship we did have. The poignant moments for me were involving the scene that led to sex (which almost seemed an afterthought after the emotional outpouring that occurred just prior), and when certain plot points happen later in the game. It didn’t use sex as a commodity, and it allowed me to have a relationship over years, not just a fling.

The combat was an enjoyable affair. The shift is away from standard tactics the first went through–enemies now come in waves. This meant my tactics weren’t as planned, and also meant I was kept more engaged in it. It also helped that my mage’s spell trees were much more streamlined, and I didn’t have tons of useless spells. Everything I selected, I used. When I didn’t like my choices, I could upgrade the talents and spells I did have.

Since I am a micromanagement type, that meant I also turned off tactics in the game, so I cannot speak to such. This meant I paused a lot and ordered my companions around. Anders was almost always by Zel Hawke’s side (I imagine them flirting between spells).

Redgren Hawke with his family. Showing off how the darker skin models translate to other family members.

Redgren Hawke with his family. Showing off how the darker skin models translate to other family members.

The story itself falls into a three act structure (I should probably don my theater critic hat for this game at some point). While they seem not very connected at first, how everything ends brings up the ever-true everything is connected point. What affects one character can set off reactions somewhere else, etc.

Conversation was more enjoyable for me. Zel started off a snark mage, but after the second act, he realized he had the ability to make peoples’ lives better, and started fighting against oppression. This led to some nasty rivalries while cementing certain friendships. In general, not tying my responses to my alignment allowed for a character shift, and didn’t result in me gaming the system. It allowed me to roleplay Zel Hawke.

The second act plot twist was also endearing. The third act’s plot twist gave me pause. It was one of those moments I loved so much in Origins, where I had to weigh the pros and cons, and how this character would feel. Could he make the decision he was about to make, and why would he? Could he justify it to himself, and if he could, what did that mean?

Then, the last fight happened. I’m going out on a limb and saying the last fight may have soured my opinion on the game a bit. They used a Chekov’s gun that wasn’t necessary. Everything to which the game had been building had a perfect excuse, and then it threw in an insulting last boss fight that was as implausible as it was unnecessary (the fight itself? Fun. The final reasoning for it? UGHH). Spoiler: remember that bit about magic items making people go crazy? Wasn’t necessary and both insulted me as someone who has had mental health issues, and made my story critic just cringe in pain.

Overall? I enjoyed the game. It ended on a cliffhanger where I’m less concerned with what my Champion goes and does (beyond living as an apostate with Anders–this means in my world the Amells have created two mages that have drastically altered Thedas) and more concerned with what will happen in the world at large. There were many strings which were left untied on purpose, and I’ll be curious to see whether they are addressed in DLC or the third game.

Last note: the references to actions in Origins were appreciated on this end, and caused me quite a bit of mirth to see my decisions acknowledged.

Tip: have Isabela banter with everyone. Banter is still hilarious, and Isabela’s may be the best. That is, next to the one time Anders asks Sebastian about his armor and the placement of Andraste’s face.

Minor annoyance: Lady Hawkes stripped of armor are in ‘sexy’ panties and a bra. BroHawkes stripped of armor are in pants (picture of that below).

Zel Hawke standing, shirtless, in The Gallows. Aveline turns her back to him.

Zel Hawke standing, shirtless, in The Gallows. Aveline turns her back to him.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
This entry was posted in Dragon Age 2, Informal Review and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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