[Dragon Age 2] My story and review (with SPOILERS) and some thoughts

da2_hawkeact2 Hawke’s finery (which she wears around the manor in Acts 2 and 3) reminds me of a school uniform.

Dragon Age 2 is, I think, going to be a game that provokes strong reactions. In my last post I briefly mentioned some of the shortcomings of the game (the repetitive areas, repetitive fights with waves of mooks teleporting/ rapelling in – funny how we don’t complain about repetitive fights in MMOs really…). I’ve also mentioned briefly how DA2 incorporates more and more elements from good tabletop RPG games – the idea that your character and their companions have families, backgrounds, stories that will impinge into the main narrative and give your character (and companions) extra goals and motivations, and how I felt more of an emotional connection when playing this game.

I thought they did make good use of Hawke’s family and family ties in the plot. Your sister/ brother and mother are intended to be emotional ties and plot elements (OK, there is a whiff of the disposable NPC here). I know that when I decided to support the mages in the end, it was largely because of my in game sister. I enjoyed this in DAO also, with my dwarf warden deciding the new ruler of Orzammar based on the fact he was nailing my sister (it always comes down to sisters with me ;) ), but with this game they’ve taken it further and brought it more front and centre to the plot.

The companions are some of the absolute high points of the gameplay, storytelling, and writing, even against Bioware’s reasonably high standard. I think every one of them is a winner. From reading other people’s thoughts (there is a thread on rpg.net about favourite companions) it looks as though every one of them expands into an interesting three dimensional character if you spend more time getting to know them. What I liked about the thread I linked to here is how passionately people defend their favourites. I still think Merill was an idiot, but it’s cool that some people want to argue that she was a genius.

I enjoyed the idea of a game set in a single city. These single city campaigns have always been popular in tabletop RPGs (I’ll always remember The City of Seven Hills from our old and beloved D&D game) and have been touched on in RPGs before. Balder’s Gate was largely set in a city, as was Planescape. But setting the game in three acts over several years gives some geniune chances to see how the place and the characters change and grow. Seeing Aveline go from being a new recruit to captain of the guard was a good example, and well deserved.

I did think Varric was awesome and loved how his unreliable narrative tied into the game play and the framing story. The quest where he confronts his brother and you get a section where he single handedly takes out waves and waves of trash mobs was hilarious.

I also enjoyed the pacing of the story. Act 1 did feel slow with all of the side quests, but at the same time you really did get to know your way around the city and get introduced to some of the main characters who you would see in later acts. Act 2 was great and I loved the storyline with the Qunari, it was interesting, well played out, and Hawke did get to be a genuine champion. And then Act 3 was very pacey indeed but that worked for me since by that point I was quite keen to get to the end and not get distracted by side quests.

I also think DA2 marks a change in how Bioware write their lead characters. Although there is still the power fantasy element – you are the hero, it’s never been easier to romance the love interest of choice – Hawke in this game is equally pulled and pushed by other plot elements in the background. And to my mind, the game is all the better for it. It’s about you, but not entirely about you. Sometimes you get swept along by forces larger than yourself.

In particular, the love interests are not really under your control. Anders and Merill in particular have their own agendas, and however close you get to them in a relationship, you may not be able to change them … enough. I think it’s a very grown up piece of writing to ask a player how they would respond if a character they were emotionally close to went off the deep end. (And if the player isn’t interested, there are more ‘stable’ love interests who will be more predictable.)

I’m not sure I envy Bioware trying to design love interests that will appeal to any player, it’s pretty much an impossible task. I did generally like the LIs better in this game than in DAO, but fans of Alistair will probably be disappointed in Anders and Fenris. Having said that, it was nice to see a few familiar faces making a brief reappearance towards the end of the game.

And here’s a fun thread from the Bioware forums in which people discuss which they think the best line in the game was.

What I Did

My Hawke was a female 2 handed warrior. The 2 handed trees are super for smashing through waves of bandits et al really quickly. I think if I did it again I’d pay more attention to abilities that improve stamina regen though. I’m not sure how I feel about her voice, she was a bit of a posh girl and to me she always sounded awkward when she was being sarcastic/ witty.

I played my Hawke as being fairly feisty/ sarcastic in the first two acts and more assertive in Act 3. I suspect that the conversational choices are both more subtle and more key to how people respond than is immediately obvious.

My go-to party was Aveline, Varric and Anders, although I did spend more of Act 2 with Isabella in group than Varric because I liked her dialogues with Aveline.

Bethany did not come on the deep roads expedition with me (I was persuaded by my in game mother’s pleas) and ended up being taken to the Circle. From subsequent letters, she seemed to quite enjoy it there but was around to fight by my side at the end. Hurrah!

Astoundingly, all of the companions except for Sebastian ended up fighting by my side for the last fight. Fenris left when I sided with the mages, but came back when I asked him to. This surprised me because I hadn’t really spent much time with him. Maybe I was more charming than I thought.

In Act 2, Isabella left but returned in the nick of time with her artefact when I was talking to the Qunari. I duelled and beat the Arishok in single combat, and that was a tough fight even on easy mode.

I had Anders as my love interest. I do think he was a cool character, I liked how he was introduced at his clinic (you got the sense that he did have a genuine interest in helping people) and he did a great job of stopping blood mages from killing me and helping to identify people who were possessed in the first couple of acts. I also have a soft spot for blondes :P Yes, he went off the rails towards the end, and I was sucked in to hoping I could try to keep him (and everyone else) safe. I kept him in my party though, partly because by that time I just wanted to protect him from himself and partly because I needed him to help deal with the current crisis. I don’t think the relationship would have really lasted so I was amused when Varric said in the narrative that everyone left Hawke except for Isabella at the end. It may have been a bug (probably the love interest was supposed to stay) but I thought it was very plausible since she was pretty much my best friend.

Incidentally I’m pretty sure Anders didn’t use magic to blow up the chantry but alchemy instead. Let’s face it, if he’d had access to that sort of magic, templars would have been blown up a lot sooner than that.

When we went into the fade to sort out Feynriel, I took Varric, Isabella and Fenris, the latter two being corrupted by desire and pride demons respectively. I had no intention of ever taking Anders into the fade :)

As far as the Circle and Templars go, I tend to entirely blame the first enchanter for all the blood mages in Kirkwall. It was his job to train his mages better than that. If everything hadn’t completely gone to hell, I would have tried to get in a decent mage to head up the circle, but the templar/ circle relationship wasn’t really a good solution anyway. I still sided with the mages though since Meredith was clearly someone who had to go.

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22 thoughts on “[Dragon Age 2] My story and review (with SPOILERS) and some thoughts

  1. Helping sisters is good ;p

    I should write up mine, if I could remember it. ThinK Anders refuses to go into the Fade anyway. I was kind of stuck with him once he started to bore me, because he was my group healer. Isabella didn’t like me so much ;p

    Am going to play it through as a mage next, and side with the Templars. ha ha ha.

    • I was thinking of doing something similar with my next play through :)

      One thing I do find is that although you can respec, you may not have a huge amount of choice of how many companions can play different roles. I think 2H warriors are great but if you aren’t playing one (and want one in the group) it will have to be Fenris. Whereas there are two different archers (would anyone take Seb over Varric though? Maybe in my next play through …). And Anders is pretty much set up as your stock healer – they were very keen to make sure you got involved with him in some way or other.

      Still better than DAO where you had to play for a few hours before you got a healer though…

  2. I took Anders with me into the Fade, at which point Justice/Vengence came out full force. It also ended up giving me the Justice skill for free since I hadn’t actually taken it (I was focusing on Ander’s healing tree and healing half of his special tree). It was pretty interesting.

    I do agree, I did enjoy the character interaction. That was pretty brilliant overall, except I ended up having to kill Fenris :( I apparently was not quite as charming.

  3. I thought the story was a little thinner than the previous one, to be honest. There wasn’t anything as strong as the Deep Roads sequence, for example and I was a little disappointed the city intrigue angle wasn’t played more.

    Also, I was deeply disappointed I wasn’t allowed to side with the Arishok, who made some excellent points like everyone in this city should be beaten.

  4. I actually like how companions are pretty tightly ‘specced’ and that you need to pick and choose. (Then again in my tank game, my Hawke’s a 2H tank, his boy Fenris is a 2H DPS and I killed the Ancient Rock Wraith in about thirty seconds. Well not that fast but it was SO easy.)

    You’ll really dig a mage game I think with all of their sheer options(I went the Spirit Healer/Arcane defense route with some Ice offensive magic), with Fenris, Varric, and Aveline. And AoE mowing down mooks? They have that AND Single Target.

    I too think though that the characters/LIs were better overall in this one. I just like the cast so much more somehow. They synergize and gel much better together, and I think more sympathetic in general, even with their flaws.

    (Going to start a Rogue game while I have my 2H Tank/Mage games going. Maybe I’ll even not romance Fenris in the rogue game…maybe…:p)

  5. I enjoyed the game, though I thought the pacing was a bit off, the red thread of the story often went missing, and the repetitive stuff grated.

    Our stories were pretty similar! I was a 2H warrior too, and my party was Aveline, Varric and Anders. I will admit to being annoyed with Anders basically non-stop, but he was the healer, so he had to come along.

    Isabella ditched me and never came back, so I had to fight the Arishok and all of his friends, which really sucked, aargh.

    As for love interests, the game very much surprised, but also confused me. Based on my RL predilection, I always go for the fem-fem romances, and I thought Aveline was adorable! So then I thought that it was pretty much heart-breaking that Bioware created the first ever one-sided romance in the game. During the quests where Aveline is bumbling around for Donnic, you get tons of options to flirt with her, to make her see that you are the one, and it goes right over her head. Once she’s actually with Donnic, she wonders how it would have been with the two of you, which breaks Hawke’s heart, I tell ya. Meanies.

    I decided I wouldn’t go for a romance in that playthrough, but then after the mess with Merrill, she kicked me out of her house for good, then showed up at Hawke’s, and the rest is history. Still very confused that you can have a full-fledged romance with someone with maxed out rivalry. Once they are together, Merrill is such an adorable thing, it’s just so very cute. So there I went, from hating this annoying bumbling, kinslaying idiot, to loving her lots and lots. That’s some impact. Varric told me Merrill didn’t leave her side, so I am hoping it carries over into the next game. :)

    If they make me buy a DLC for it again though (I am looking at you, Mass Effect 2 and Liara), I will be cross.

    • Aveline was totally adorable! It is pretty cool that the writing can change how you feel about a character like that though (maybe I should have Merrill in my group more next run…)

  6. I enjoyed the game on the whole, but agree with your major gripes (namely the repetitive areas).

    I played a Primal/Force Mage and god it was fun. Waves of mobs? Smoosh them into a tight group, slap them into the ground, lock them in place and aoe like mad. The combat was extremely amusing and I’m looking forward to replaying as another class at some point.

    My party was usually Fenris for tanking (great combination of defensive and offensive abilities), Varric for ranged/traps/locks and Anders for Elemental and heals. Fenris and I enjoyed our rivalry, Varric and I got on famously and Anders and I built an emo/terrorist love nest of sorts, which was quite fun. Isabella bailed on me during Act 2 (due to great neglect) and Carver was unbearable, so I was quite happy when he up and joined the templars.

    Act 3 was a bit of a letdown, in my opinion. You just ended up killing off most of the main characters who go from ‘interesting and morally complex’ to ‘batshit insane villain’ in two heartbeats or less. Still, when it was all said and done I was extremely sad that it was over and I can’t wait for some DLC. That says something.

  7. I was really hurt by Anders’ bombing. Darling, do this and that for our love, don’t ask me why – that is how it always happens. Using a loving girl to set up terrorist attack is not overly ethical by my standards. Doing that to an *armed* loving girl can hurt one’s health as well.

  8. I used Primal & Force Mage. With all kinds of items that increases fire damage, a chain of gravitic ring-pull of the abyss-firestorm can really make the game feel ‘casual’, but still fun :D

  9. I too, just finished my first play through, and made a proper hash of a number of things.

    The first being that I let Anders live–but as seeing there are no other healers in the game (as a 2h warrior femHawke) the jerk lived. Considering there doesn’t seem to be one freaking mage in the game that doesn’t have a demon in them, siding with bat-shit crazy Merideth will be a bit easier next play through.

    Merrill bugged out in me in Act III, questioning her beliefs but never talking to me (other than about her roof) when I dropped in to visit. Maybe she was pissed at me for what happened on the Sundermount.

    The act III writing annoyed me in that Hawke had sided with the mages on nearly every major decision and the mage/templar plotters kept on saying that Meredith sent me and then dying on my 68 spirit DPS 2h (with 37% haste buff)–in droves.

  10. It is possible to fight through Orsino without healer (at least on the Normal difficulty). Sandal has 25 healing potions in stock. After Orsino is down, you get Bethany back to heal you.

  11. I do have a question.. is there any way to have prevented Anders from destroying the Chantry? Also, do you need to have that part where he does destroy it as part of the storyline, or can you skip it?

  12. Pingback: Ten Good Things About Dragon Age 2 « Procrastination Amplification

  13. I just got through completing my second playthrough, first time being a dual-handed Rogue who’s all nice and mage-supportive, the next being a blunt killer who killed anyone she could and supported the Templars (Even though she was a blood Mage herself.)

    Favourite character was definately Merrill, because of her accent more than anything else, and watching her slowly get corrupted by Isabella in the background chat was intriguing.

    If you fancy reading the write-ups of my playthroughs you can read them from here…

    http://zombiechimp.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/dragon-age-ii-choices-%e2%80%93-play-through-1-garett/

    I’ve now just bought Awakening, and so have started a whole new origins game, to play through from start to finish. There’s so much stuff I want to do now, to see how it affects DA:II.

  14. DA2 was a “Rags to Riches” story-line which was supposed to display the fact that Hawke was mearly a refugee NOT a epic warden/Knight hero such as the Wardens form DA:O. I think that people didn’t realize that when placing reviews down on this game. yes alot of your choices are ignored but the idea behind it was to show that Hawke was involved in situations that both sides wanted him to stay out of. as for the game play I liked most of it. an yes im awear that they could have focused on one point an used newer maps. but thats not the point its the idea that he is throne into 3 different situations that he/she has no control over.

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