TYSYACHA'S LONG DA2 REVIEW
Penned in gleeful anger by Tysyacha "Perdre" Hawke
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! FAIR WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!
VERY FEW PC GAMES nowadays want to make me plunk down fifty dollars of my limited monetary supply for RPG joygasms. However, as soon as BioWare and EA's "Dragon Age II" digital download arrived on amazon.com, I was ecstatic. I didn't care about the price--all I cared about was the chance to revisit the wondrous realm of Thedas. At last, I'd find out what happened to my old friends Leliana, Alistair, Zevran and the rest! Finally, the wait would be over when it came to resolving the conflict between the templars and the mages! Most of all, my new hero, the Champion of Kirkwall, would equal or surpass my Warden in sheer power. Move over, Aeducan--here comes Hawke!
I honestly tried to love Dragon Age 2. I tried. And tried. And tried...
I shall divide my critiques into three areas: quests, choices and Hawke.
Quests are the bread-and-butter of role-playing games (RPG's), whether they be the chief storyline or simple missions that allow you to become acquainted with the game's fantasy world and characters. A quest that is truly worthy of this name, even on the most basic level, has three essential ingredients: 1) a quest giver; 2) a goal or objective, and 3) an outcome. "Talk to Merrill" is NOT a quest; "rescue Merrill from the clutches of a pride demon" IS. The former is simply a conversation lumped under the category of "quest" for simplicity's sake. BioWare and Electronic Arts seem to have forgotten this entirely. Or, perhaps a more sinister and disquieting rationale is at work here: gamers do not want to take the time to talk to their companions anymore, because it interrupts the game's main focus: combat, even in an RPG.
In days of yore (read: Dragon Age: Origins, Arcanum, Baldur's Gate, etc.), it was simply a given that you, as the player, would roleplay your character.
You would make a conscious effort to get to know the fantasy realm and its inhabitants, not simply figure out the best way to hack them to pieces.
More on this point later. Aside from pitifully-short conversations mislabeled as quests, another major flaw of the actual quests in Dragon Age 2 is their failure to involve the player on a deep emotional level. Missions are carried out as routinely and joyously as a trip to the grocery store or laundromat, with about as much consequence involved. More examples of quests that aren't true quests are the various "lost object" missions: Open a chest or barrel, find a noblewoman's stray shawl or guardsman's pommel, and return it to the highlighted NPC in question. In all cases, the NPC does not seek you out and plead for your help with the necessity of finding this object. It is simply THERE, and you know that the story of Dragon Age 2 would still keep grinding on if poor Apprentice X never found his missing magical grimoire. THIS is the kind of thing that keeps gamemakers raking in profits year after year, but game-players ultimately frustrated and bored--meaningless quests.
There's a not-so-familiar old saying that "having only two options is not a choice. It's a dilemma". Such is the case, over and over again, in Dragon Age 2. Even in the original titles--Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening--there were several factors to consider EVEN IF you could only select one option over another. You had to weigh your "pros and cons" very carefully if you chose to aid the werewolves in their quest for vengeance and self-identification, or to favor a kind but ineffectual monarch over an effective but dictatorial one.
This is almost never the case in this game. Granted, I never played it all the way through, but does "the Exotic Wonder of the East" come back to help or haunt you if you spare her life? What of the charlatan Miracle Makers? Do the Carta's newest recruits come up with an even crazier scheme to bilk the citizens of Lowtown out of their hard-earned coin? One never knows. "To kill or not to kill": that is the perennial question in Dragon Age 2. Even if some decisions do come back to reward you or bite you in the rear end, one gets the sense that all is not--and never would be--lost. In Origins, at least, entire regions of Ferelden would fall to ruin, and disaster would strike, depending on the paths you took. Not so much in this essentially-volitionless world. The only true choice you can REALLY make is the one I mentioned earlier. Never have I been so tempted to spare "evil" characters' existences...
There are plenty of (even major!) quests with only one outcome,
whether you "roleplay" with kind, funny, or aggressive dialogue options. The final result is the same. Merrill is recruited into your party no matter what, and your character must venture into the Deep Roads to get rich, regardless if he or she is disinclined. Certainly, some quests have more than one outcome, but by "more than one", I mean "two". You can side with EITHER the templars OR the mages. There is no "middle ground" or tantalizing "third option", where you can tell both sides to screw themselves and blaze your own trail. At least you could do that in Fallout: New Vegas,
ostensibly not a BioWare game, but generally reviewed as worse than DA2 on such sites as GameSpot. "The power of choice", reported to be "unprecedented" in this game, is actually very limited. Either go left or right at the fork in the road.
Here is a choice I wish I could have made in the course of Dragon Age 2. Instead of either A) handing the pirate captain Isabela over to the Qunari or B) dueling the Arishok to the death for her freedom, I would have C) taken Isabela's place as a prisoner, becoming the Arishok's loyal and humble new Karasten. Either that, or I would have D) fled Kirkwall with Isabela, leaving the rest of my companions behind if they did not wish to join me on the run. You can pick neither of MY two choices in the game. Care to guess why?
Perhaps the greatest flaw of the greatest sequel to one of BioWare and EA's greatest games is its hero. Hawke (whether s/he be "Marian" or "Garrett") is not a character. I wouldn't even call him/her an archetype (warrior, rogue, mage, hero, comic relief, villain). Hawke is a BUILD. It doesn't really matter what Hawke SAYS; it only matters what Hawke can DO. Meaning, how well Hawke can fight. Combat is the main purpose of this game, if not the sole purpose. If Hawke is not a bad@$$, s/he is no one, not even when s/he is crowned the Champion of Kirkwall (and possible viscount/ess). Even then, what is Hawke the champion OF? Justice? Nobility? Good-natured chaos? Perfidy? No one can really tell. That's because, in the case of Dragon Age 2 "champion" only means "winner" or "best fighter". You've won the game, and you earn a title to prove that you've won the game. That's it. No more. You only lose if you die, and no one wants to do that. Thus, you're slated to win.
There are far more threads about how to "build" Hawke than Hawke himself or herself. "The Ultimate Vanguard", boasts one fan thread. "Anders Vengeance 2.0," boasts another, exhorting readers to beef up one of their companions. These are not characters; these are "bots", and only the strongest survive. At least my Warden, to her credit, had huge qualms over some of the choices she made. The only thing that my Hawke can regret is picking the side that s/he considers the "wrong" one in the end. All other things are considered equal. Ceteris paribus
is the real name of this game, in the form of Hawke.
No wonder I've always given her the first name of Perdre.
There's no winning here for a roleplayer who wants to roleplay--and, even to lose.
TYSYACHA'S FINAL SCORE: 6/10