We recently experienced a death in the family. Okay, not really, but my desktop computer is dead and we’re awaiting the arrival of a new processor before cannibalizing my system and building a new machine. This means I’ve been on my laptop – a fine machine for writing (and it’s also quite shiny and pretty), but not so much for gaming. However, it occurred to me that some of my older games might run on the laptop just fine. Turns out, optimized for consoles as it was, Dragon Age II runs great.
Every decently successful franchise has a problem child that they don’t discuss at fancy parties. Dragon Age II is that child – though like most problem children, the fault really stems from the parents. Rushed through development, and released just two years after Dragon Age: Origins (a longer, better developed, and certainly better received game), the game has some pretty glaring flaws that have been well documented. Gameplay was simplified to the point of often being unsatisfying, and they used the same tile sets and maps over and over again – the location was given a new name, but it was the exact same cave you’d explored ten times already for other side quests. The story line and relationship dynamics were stilted and clearly rushed – which is an incredible shame, because the writers put together what could have been a really engaging story.
Actually, let’s expand on that for a moment. DA II spans the years between DA:O and Dragon Age: Inquisition, focusing on the Champion of Kirkwall – a Ferelden refugee who flees to Kirkwall (a city-state in the Free Marches) with her family and eventually rises to importance. While it may seem strange to be bound to this single city after the previous game, which saw you exploring the whole of Ferelden, so much of significance is taking in place in Kirkwall during these years that it makes sense to be there. Or at least, that’s what you’re supposed to think. The game is actually presented as a flashback or story – Varric, a savvy dwarf who likes to spin tales (and my favorite character from the game), is being interrogated by an agent of the Chantry after SOMETHING HAPPENED. What that something is will not be revealed for some time, as it ties heavily into the climax of the game. The agent from the Chantry has a stack of wrong opinions about how the something happened, and Varric endeavors to set her straight. It’s a good setup.
The companion characters are also interesting. In addition to Varric, you have Isabella, whom you met briefly in DA:O (and possible had a three-or-moresome with depending on how you played your cards, pun intended), a pirate captain with no ship, stranded in Kirkwall for unspecific reasons. Then there’s Aveline, a city guard who fled with your character after the death of her husband at the hands of darkspawn. Fenris, the brooding ex-slave from Tevinter who is hunting his former master, and makes interesting commentary on what it means to be a slave and the psychology of someone who has never known freedom. Anders, from DA:O Awakenings who has now deserted the Grey Wardens and volunteered to be the new vessel for Justice, the Fade Spirit whom had become trapped in the waking world during Awakenings. Then there’s Merril, a naive Dalish elf which you might remember from the Dalish origin story in DA:O, whom has exiled herself from her clan in order to pursue magics the Dalish consider unsafe, all for the greater good. If you ponied up for the DLC, you also have Sebastian, a Chantry brother who, after the death of his family, is now the Prince of Starkhaven and seeks your assistance in his quest for vengeance and identity.
These are great companion characters. They’re interesting, varied, and offer a wealth of perspectives. Many of them appeared in earlier games, and so could have been a great way to solidly link the games together. However, your interactions with them outside of combat are severely limited compared to the other games in the franchise, and Maker forbid you expect a developed romance from any of them. You won’t get it. They talk to you when they have a quest for you, and when you have a gift for them (of which the game with provide you one, maybe two) and that’s it. Also, because of the lack of more developed conversations, the romance dialogues often feel incredibly rushed and a bit out of character. From a studio known for its character interactions in RPGs, this is particularly jarring.
So on that note, I have prepared the following alternative titles for Dragon Age II. The game doesn’t have the same naming scheme you see in the other titles in the franchise, and on message boards I saw a number of people refer to it as Dragon Age: Exodus, but I felt I could do better. I present the following for your perusal –
Dragon Age: Bad Decisions
Dragon Age: Mistakes Were Made
Dragon Age: CliffsNotes
Dragon Age: The Writers Deserved Better
Dragon Age: Middle Child Syndrome
Dragon Age: It’s Always Demons
Dragon Age: It’s Always Blood Magic
Dragon Age: Kirkwall Burning
Dragon Age: Don’t I Know You?
Dragon Age: Why Are We Here?
Dragon Age: Haven’t We Been Here?
Dragon Age: No, We’ve Definitely Been Here
Now, snark aside, I love the Dragon Age games, and I love Bioware. However, it is because I love them that I know they can do better. And they have! Dragon Age: Inquisition was a triumph! In part because they actually listened when all of their fans went, “Guys, what in the fresh hell is this,” following DA II.
And on that note, I’m going to go back to attempting to romance Fenris and hope it doesn’t bug out again. Because passionate and angsty is still a fun combination, even if under developed.