Dragon Age II Final Thoughts

Content Advisory: This post discusses implied sexual abuse in Fenris’ backstory.

There’s a lot to analyze about DAII. Let’s take it step by step.

The Aesthetics

I like the blood motif of the cover art for the first two Dragon Age games. I also like the default look for Hawke.

In terms of graphics, DAII is a bit of a mixed bag. It looks better than DA:O and has a brighter color palette, but after getting used to the look of DA:O and Dragon Age: Inquisition, DAII looks weird to me now. The human characters look kind of generic, and the attempt to diversify the look of elves feels like a misstep. Elves look more slender than humans overall, and have pronounced cheekbones and eyes. Characters still escape the Uncanny Valley better than the humans of Mass Effect, however.

I have to say that the elven DLC character Tallis, modeled after and voiced by the adorable Felicia Day, looks a bit weird to me. Tallis looks like an elven version of Day.

Characters from DA:O look pretty faithful to their appearances in that game, except for Flemeth, whose character was totally redesigned, and Zevran, an elf.

The voice acting was generally as good as ever for a BioWare game, but after checking out some videos of male Hawke to cross-reference Carver’s death scene, I found that I did not like male Hawke’s voice acting. It sounded too flat, unemotional, and formal. Maybe it was just that scene, however.

It’s a shame that Florence + the Machine’s “I Didn’t Call You a Liar” didn’t play during the credits when I beat the game because it’s a nice song.

This wouldn’t be the last time that Florence + the Machine would have a song featured in a game…

The Development

I think it’s impossible to address the issues of DAII without also addressing its production.

We all know by now that DAII was squeezed out in a scant 18 months due to EA’s constraints. They wanted to capitalize on DA:O‘s success, which is totally understandable, but they didn’t have to be so Activision about it. In contrast, DA:O took four years to develop, and DA:I took three, with a short delay that even EA was wise enough to agree with so that BioWare could be satisfied with the game.

One of BioWare’s lead designers, Brent Knowles, was with the company for a decade before he resigned during DAII‘s development and ultimately left the studio. He said: “I’m not the same person I was when I started, and BioWare is not the same company.

I never thought Dragon Age II would be a terrible game. It was just that a highly cinematic, action-leaning RPG was not what I wanted to work on. That is all.”

Originally, DAII was going to be a sidestory called Dragon Age: Exodus and DA:I‘s storyline was going to be the “true” DAII. I think that Exodus‘ promotion to the final DAII reflects how the game’s story feels like a sidestory after the epic scope of Origins.

Speaking of which…

The Story

I do think that Origins has a stronger story overall. DAII suffers from that sidestory feel mentioned above, and also from an increasingly grim storyline. Hawke and co. are put through the wringer in this game, and unlike DA:O, there isn’t much to be won at the end of the day – certainly nothing on the level of a triumph over an Archdemon.

Hawke and their family fled to the Free Marches in search of a home. While they do get their estate back, Hawke at least loses one of their siblings and their mother over the course of the game, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Doesn’t matter how badass you are in combat or if you can talk your way out of a situation. And that’s not even getting into how some of the companions’ personal quests turn out. “Pride’s End” was the last straw (no pun intended) that made me bail on the game for about eight months before finishing it on May 22 2012. The game has a lot of funny moments too, but with so many dark and heavy twists in the main plot, your heart becomes weary and calcified to such manipulations and you just want a break.

Another sticking point for some is how you have to kill both Meredith and Orsino no matter your allegiances. It wasn’t originally going to be this way, but BioWare added the boss fight against Orsino for the sake of another boss fight instead of making it exclusive to those whose Hawke sided with the Templars.

The Characters and Character Trivia

Varric is OK. I don’t think I like him quite as much as some other fans, though. He’s a good person (rare in Thedas) with awesome voice acting and a lot of cleverness and sass. As a surface dwarf, he’s very different from his brethen, which may be one of the points of his character. Why, he doesn’t even have a prominent beard. Perhaps the majority of his facial hair migrated to his chest.

He is not romancable, which disappoints many, but BioWare cut a scene from the end of the game where he reunites with Hawke and tells them that he did not tell Cassandra anything about their relationship.

There was going to be an expansion for the game called Exalted March. In this expansion, Varric was going to die! Instead, some story elements of EM were retooled into DA:I where Varric is very much alive.

Some of the goofier moments of Varric’s recollections of his adventures with Hawke – like Hawke and Carver’s ass-kicking of Darkspawn and Varric’s own assault on Bartrand’s mansion – are a bit sadder when you know the truth of those events.

Carver: I got along with Carver pretty badly, which made his ultimate fate all the more sad. You never know how much time you’ll get with someone, and you’ll remember the things you did to and with them.

Aveline is a true ladybro. I have no complaints about her. She may have ended up the most well-adjusted out of all the companions in my game. Despite her likability, I didn’t mention her much.

The Arishok is not a very memorable character to me, and that’s weird, because I remember him being promoted a lot, but those promotions were a filthy lie, because he’s not even the true antagonist of the game – Meredith and Orsino are. At least the Arishok looks cool.

In terms of character class, he’s actually a rogue.

Gemlan and Leandra do not have that much of a presence in the game, but they have just enough of a presence to make Leandra’s fate all the more tragic. When Hawke returns from Quentin’s basement and tells Gemlan what happened to his sister, he excuses himself to be alone with his emotions. This scene didn’t work for some people, but it worked for me. Hawke and Gemlan go through the same situation of losing a sibling.

In more lighthearted times, Gemlan provides some snarky comments.

One thing for sure: I will never be able to remember how to spell his damn name.

Merril was a character that I really liked because she was a total cutie pie; a sweet and shy nerd. But she was also a blood mage. My staunch stance on blood magic made her my biggest rival over the course of the game.

Fenris: I’ve thought about it a bit, and I realized that Fennie (don’t tell him I said that) is my favorite companion in the game.

I like dark companion quests, as long as they still have a shred of hope. Fenris’ personal quest falls under this in my interpretation, whereas Merril’s does not.

It’s implied in the game that Fenris was sexually abused by Danarius when the elf was still Danarius’ slave.

Fenris’ temper scared me away from romancing him, but at least he doesn’t blow buildings up…

The incomparable Sakimichan drew a wonderful portrait of Fenris.

Fenris by Sakimichan. Check out her other work! ❤

Anders: Over the years, I think I’ve grown to like him less while liking Fenris more. I understand what he did to the Chantry better now. I guess I still care about Anders’ and Hawke’s relationship, though.

If you romance Anders with a male Hawke, Anders will reveal that Karl was his first.

Sometimes, I forget that Anders is a Grey Warden.

Anders changed voice actors from the DA:O expansion Awakening due to “shenanigans”. Ooh! Anders’ original VA, Greg Ellis, also voiced Cullen throughout the initial trilogy of DA games.

I realize now that one reason why I kept Anders alive is because I lost Alistair near the end of DA:O, so I didn’t want to go through that again.

Isabela: In these games, you sometimes have a character who you interact with the least, and as a result, you don’t really get to know them. Isabela has that dubious distinction for DAII. Her nearest DA:O equivalent is Zevran, but I still got some backstory out of him.

Meredith is a fascist bitch.

Orsino is implied to have worked with Quentin. Still, he does arguably have some sympathy when many of his fellows die in the final battle with the Templars. “Why don’t they just drown us as infants? Why wait? Why give us the illusion of hope?”

In any case, Orsino and Meredith both fall prey to their extremist paranoia.

Knight-Captain Cullen is a hell of a lot more important than I gave him credit for. He was in both DA:O and DAII, and he gets a supporting role in DA:I, yet I didn’t mention him at all in either LP. I rewrote the last part of my DAII LP in a last-ditch attempt to link him to the rest of the trilogy.

The Gameplay

The gameplay received an overhaul. Instead of picking dialog options from a numbered list (BOR-ing, am I right?), BioWare took a cue from their own Mass Effect games with a more expressive dialog wheel. In general, upper-right options on the wheel are peaceful and diplomatic; middle-right are infamously snarky or silly, which may be fun, but can also get you in trouble; and lower-right options are aggressive and blunt.

The combat felt much better balanced than that of DA:O.

The Trivia

Hawke was originally going to be a werewolf called Ulrich von Hawke in Exodus.

Shippy Bits

For some reason, Alistair/Bethany is a popular ship. My sister’s creepin’ on my man!

The Anders/Fenris ship is called Fenders.

The Legacy

DA:O was successful and beloved enough to spawn a sequel. Despite the criticism that DAII received, the game was also beloved and successful enough to receive tons of fanart, fanfiction, cosplay, and spinoffs.

Hawke, Cassandra, Varric, and Cullen all play a key roles in Inquisition. The Seeker is promoted to the role of party member. You can have your Inquisitor ask Varric about Hawke, their love interest, and companions.

Morrigan and Leliana also appear in Inquisition, and Alistair or Loghain may appear as well.

King Alistair, Varric, and Isabela star in a series of Dark Horse comic books.

Corypheus, who first appears in the DAII DLC Legacy, plays a major role in Inquisition as well.

All of your favorite characters from DA appear in the free-to-play mobile game Heroes of Dragon Age.

Cassandra starred in the CG anime movie Dawn of the Seeker.

One of the awesomest examples: A lady named Allegra Clark is a DA fan who cosplayed as Isabela. BioWare decided to cast her as Josephine, financial adviser and diplomat for the Inquisition. They also modeled Josephine after her.

In hindsight, 2011-2012 were pretty rough years for BioWare and their reputation. They are plowing ahead with Mass Effect: Andromeda, which looks incredible, but I don’t know if I know enough about it to be really excited for it yet. I do know that it features the Ryder family: the father and his two adult children, a brother and a sister, which reminds me of DAII. IT ALREADY HURTS

While they’re working on ME:A, things are mum on the DA front… for now. 😉

I may have been hard on it, but DAII is still an important piece of the lore. I don’t agree with those who hate the game, but I think that it proves that a game can be good yet a little disappointing.

PC Gamer recently put DAII on its annual list of the 100 best PC games of all time. That issue’s back page features a bingo card of reactions to their lists, which features such reactions as “Dragon Age II should be higher” and “They’re obviously being bribed by BioWare/Valve/CD Projekt/that Stardew Valley guy”.

What’s Next?

I don’t know yet. I could continue the BioWare feels train with Mass Effect 2, but that LP isn’t as good as my DA LPs. Or I could find something from my grab bag of early 2010 journal entries.