Dragon Age II Retrospective

So we are just over one month away from the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, one of this year’s most hotly anticipated titles and really one of the only major releases not pushed back till the new year, which has meant that I have already gone back and recreated my perfect playthroughs for Origins and II and built the Thedas that I am ready to help defend as the Inquisitor in this new entry in the series. It has been almost four years since the last time we were there and I think we’ve all been getting a little bit antsy to return.

However, I am going into this game with a bit more worry and trepidation than I have previously. In my holiday season preview, I mentioned how disappointed I had been in DA II and having recently gone back and replayed it (this time managing to save my sibling from the blight and such) I haven’t really had a opinion changed that much. It is easily one of the most underwhelming games I’ve played, partly because my expectations were absolutely sky high and partly because I disagree with several of the design choices they made while making it. However, I have spoken to more than a few of my fellow gamers who have assured me that I need to give it another chance. So with this most recent playthrough I’ve gone in with an open mind and tried it out. So this week’s article will chronicle the adventures of Jay Hawke as he sought to kill things and take their stuff, in the great tradition of fantasy game heroes.

My character names aren't always funny, but they are always pun-ishing. Get it?!?!

My character names aren’t always funny, but they are always pun-ishing. Get it?!?!

The Gameplay

It is probably a bit hypocritical of me to admit, but the actual gameplay in DA:II is actually very good. Jay Hawke has been a two-handed weapon fighter, giving him access to some of the more entertaining and effective combat powers in the game. This is a stark contrast to DA; although Origins fighters were balanced and useful, they lacked the fun, flashy movies that were available to mages. When it is a choice between spending my time plinking away at an ogre with a sword while I wait for one of my three useful powers to recharge or creating a Maker damned hurricane within the cave to destroy everything within, the choice is obvious. The fact that BioWare made me enjoy fighters in DA:II when they were so unappealing in Origins shows that they care about the fun factor of their games and that’s really the most important bit. Dragon Age II is honestly a lot of fun to play, no matter what class you choose…

Today its abominations. Yesterday it was undead. I'm begining to think the Wounded Coast was built on a Dalish burial ground or something.

Today its abominations. Yesterday it was undead. I’m begining to think the Wounded Coast was built on a Dalish burial ground or something.

… right up until you start revisiting the same locations over and over again, only to find that some of the doors are closed and this time this cave has a peculiar giant spider infestation rather than Qunari that seemed quite at home in it before. Reusing the same environments can work well if you’re showing a change over time, but in this case it just felt lazy and was something that hurt my enjoyment of the game when I first played it. After running all over a nation, visiting different races and unique locations, this felt like a bit of a step backward to me.

The Characters

It is hard to give an honest critique of the characters in Dragon Age as so much of their development comes from your interactions with them. BioWare has always been among the best at making the player feel like they have the freedom to do or say anything in their games, so your choices will dictate how much or how little of their story you’ll uncover. Got a snarky, smart-mouthed character? Varric is gonna like you just fine. Uptight, law abiding citizen of Kirkwall? Avaline is your new bro. Just out to kick their asses and take their stuff? Isabella’s got your back. As you get to know the characters, you’ll learn a bit more about why they are the way they are. Each of them has their own motivations, which can put them at odds with each other at times. No matter how you choose to play your Hawke, he’ll make friends with his companions, though probably not all of them.

The Story

There are some really awesome moments in Dragon Age II. Learning more about the Quanri and the Qun (and realising they are a thinly veiled metaphor for Islam) makes the world seem deeper and adds to the significant lore we were presented with in DA: Origins. I love the framing device of it all being a “story within a story” and the few times that Varric was exposed as an unreliable narrator puts the scope of the tale into perspective and explains some of the more over the top moments as him adding a little flavour to his telling of Hawke’s journey.

However, there felt like a definite lack of choice at moments, particularly at the end. Sure, you can chose to side with either the mages or the templars in the final battle, but no matter what you’ll end up fighting both because the First Enchanter is a blood mage and the Knight Captain is completely insane. Coming from a company that prides itself on allowing you to choose your path to glory, this was jarring and, as the credits rolled shortly after, left me feeling that the whole climax of the game was rushed.

Looking Forward

So as I set down my controller on DA:II for what is likely the final time, having gotten my ending just as I wanted it and ready to move forward with the next entry in the series, there are still quite a few flaws that time hasn’t really helped gloss over as much as I’d hoped. In all, the game feels rushed, which isn’t surprising considering the fact that it came out less than eighteen months after the first one and around the same time BioWare were trying to wrap up their Mass Effect series. By contrast, almost four years have been spent getting this game just right and when Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out next month, I’m hoping it is going to show that that was time well spent.

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About Trent Cannon
An American trying to infiltrate and understand English society, Trent is a writer of novels and player of games. He has a serious addiction to JRPGs, the weirder the better, and anything that keeps him distracted from work.