The Dragon Age Game that Could have Been 😃
Release Date: March 8, 2011
Rating: M 17+
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform I Played On: PC
Platform(s) Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Difficulty I Played On: Hard
Taken from Official Electronic Arts EA Site
You’re Hawke, a refugee seeking to escape the darkspawn-plagued land of Felderen and become Champion of Kirkwall. Rise to power and fight epic battles while making decisions that determine the course of civilization. Your pursuit of power begins now. How will you seal your place in history?
** Yes, Felderen 😂, on the official EA website they haven’t bothered to fix this?? It’s Ferelden guys, I am fully aware 🤣**
Why You Should Play: The Short Version
>> Best Dragon Age Protagonist! (in my opinion)
>> An engaging story and interesting side quests/stories
>> Memorable companions
>> A story that actually takes places over the course of a few years
>> Essentially the precursor to many events in Dragon Age: Inquisition
This is a game I have replayed on more than one occasion. It may not contain observations and comments exclusive to my first playthrough.
If I recall correctly this is the last Dragon Age game I played. I started with Inquisition (DAI), then Origins (DAO), then Dragon Age 2 (DA2). I kind of knew the plot premise already and the characters since I had watched some YouTube videos and just being observant of the Dragon Age fandom as a whole. I knew that the development time for this game was very short, around 18 months and with that there was some sacrifice towards the overall execution and depth to this game. At first glance it does seem like this one is the least liked Dragon Age game out of the entire series and I was excited yet a bit apprehensive about playing it.
I recall when I first actually started the game I liked the premise of fleeing a city ravaged from the blight from the last events of DAO. I didn’t even mind that we were not given the chance to play as a different race in this game. The overall structure and premise of the story made sense that we would be confined to playing as Hawke. The opening sequence of this game was enough to make me realize that I need not be fearful of the reputation of the game and I had a feeling I was going to have a much needed new Dragon Age experience.
The Story and Overall Execution
While I kept this review fairly spoiler free but depending on what one considers a spoiler there is always a risk. Read at your own risk. I have kept out any shocking reveals or major truth bombs so have no fear~
The story and premise of DA2 in my opinion is one of the stronger stories of the Dragon Age series. It is much more confined than both its counterparts and you are following a somewhat established character, Hawke, opposed to a blank slate character.
The actual story is divided into three Acts. The beginning cutscene is actually in the near distant future with Varric, one of the most beloved characters in the Dragon Age franchise, being interrogated about some event that we the player do not know about (in theory at least). He says he has to go back to where everything started and that’s where you begin your adventure playing as Hawke, leaving his/her homeland of Ferelden and arriving the city of Kirkwall.
The beginning sequence is very impactful with tragedy and some humorous content in that Varric took literary license in his explanation of some of the events. All in all, the beginning is a great hook into the game and is the best of the three games of setting the tone and not attempting to make a long-winded opening sequence.
The overall story is dealing with the consequences of the blight from DAOs events. This is elevated with the concepts of being an outsider, the brewing tensions between mages and Templars, situations that could have been prevented, and Kirkwall’s general politics.
I liked that Hawke is not a character of great authority, so we had to deal with situations that are simply out of Hawke’s control. Most of the story is simply a reactionary response to events and dealing with things because nobody else had the foresight to stop it. So, there are decisions that have repercussions that are not good no matter what because it was a sticky situation to begin with.
I appreciated that throughout the entirety of the game we are confined within the city limits of Kirkwall. There was more emphasis on all the local issues of Kirkwall but how the in-game lore and events throughout the greater area of Thedas was affecting them. We saw all the issues with mages and templars come into a more personal route opposed to having them just being said in passing. The game not only showcases the obvious mistreatment of mages but the concept of blood magic and why people are so afraid of it. There are so many instances of morally grey situations involving either Templars or mages and if you think about it there are very deep issues and no side is entirely correct, but the grand question is how can one even fix the situation? Honestly that’s still an unanswered question in the Dragon Age universe to this day.
I liked that we had semblances of districts throughout Kirkwall and the surrounding areas to have either main quests or side quests. Since this game had limitations in both size and scope I can honestly say there is not a lot of exploration. You simply go to where the side quest or main quest is located indicated by icons on the map.
I will not spoil the ending per say but I will say that the ending does unravel a bit in terms of storytelling and just contains a degree of sheer absurdity. While DAI had an underwhelming ending DA2 has a rather flamboyant ending particularly with the final boss battle. I can head canon that since Varric is using his literary license so the story that we are seeing has been made to sound more epic than it actually is… but there are some things that aren’t coherent in terms of the established characters. Let’s just say inanimate objects coming to life and helping aid the final boss battle was somewhat of a stretch given the lore established both DAO and DAI. Would I expect this in a Japanese fantasy RPG? Yes! In a Dragon Age game? No, not really…
I think DA2 at one point was grounded in a more realistic fantasy approach and then the ending was a major instance of it definitely being… well… something. I think I have heard rumblings that there were a few different ideas as to how the actual game was supposed to end and that there was supposed to me more consequences of some of the major events in the third Act. Unfortunately, we never got and never will get those stories.
The game at its core sounds like it should’ve been a grand successor to DAO but instead it has become the most polarizing game of the series. Some people loath it while some love it despite its faults. I think if you are a fan of the entirety of the Dragon Age series DA2 is something you can respect for many reasons, but if you are a casual fan or a newcomer to the stories it might not have the same appeal.
The core problem is that the game looks and to some degree feels unfinished and was clearly a rush order job. Which honestly, that’s exactly what DA2 is, a rushed unfinished game that supposedly was developed in 18 months. Obviously given this timeline things clearly had to be cut from the game at a much more severe and noticeable level than that of other Dragon Age games.
Luckily I can say that the core story and most of the companion quests are where most of the effort was put into and that shows. The BioWare staple of being able to have a core story and dynamic characters is still present throughout the game. So if that’s what you like about Dragon Age or BioWare you won’t be deprived from those elements.
Not many // Not too Much Fluff // Companion Quests are Good
This game has a very limited amount of side quests. Which honestly, thank goodness because I think that would have lessened the game with its limited production. The side quests are mainly interacting with people and them asking you to investigate something for them. I’m really not upset with the number of side quests we have.
The companion quests are really the secondary driving force of the game after the main story. Each of our companions has a personal quest spread throughout all three Acts. You can take the personal quests a bit further if they are romanceable and if you choose to take part in said romance. Overall, most characters have interesting side quests and you can see the bond with Hawke grow through every companion quest.
The game boasts the weird system of friendship or rivalry with Hawke’s companions. Where you can either essentially blindly support or outright reject your companions’ viewpoints and opinions. Most are dictated by Hawke’s decisions or dialogue choices. This game alter the balance of who supports you and who doesn’t near the end of the game. This can also alter to a varying degree of how your companions interact and respect Hawke.
Well-crafted // Memorable // Varied Perspectives
Like my Inquisition post I am thinking of doing a more in-depth companion review at some point in a separate post because I have quite a lot of opinions from our companions in this game 🤣
Carter and Bethany Hawke and Aveline are the first three options of companions of the game. Aveline being the only one of the three that actually has the potential to be a companion throughout the entirety of the game. Aveline is a fellow Ferelden native and first meets Hawke in the opening sequence. She is a strong stoic woman who lives by a set of principles and morals that is pretty much unwavering and often is the person of reason within Hawke’s group.
Carter and Bethany are Hawke’s younger twin siblings. People have a lot of (negative) opinions about Carter but there are quite a few varying opinions about Bethany as well. I will go against the grain here and say that I like Carter better than Bethany. Carter, while being a little sarcastic snot gives much more family dynamic opposed to Bethany’s rather dull personality (Bethany fans, I’m sorry 😂).
The next three characters I typically get in the game are Varric, Anders, and Fenris. Varric, our dwarven merchant, writer, and crossbow wielding dwarf makes his first appearance in this game. He essentially is the narrator of this game and is an integral character of the first Act of the game. Anders is a human mage who is a returning character from the DLC Awaking from DAO. He is really keen to talk about the plight of mages in this game and definitely has a lot of deeper issues going on inside him. Lastly, we have Fenris, an elf from Tevinter who definitely wants nothing to do with magic or Tevinter. A fan favorite of many fans let’s just keep it at that.
Merrill, Isabelle, and Sebastian are the last three characters I usually obtain in the game. Merrill is our other elven character and the complete opposite of Fenris personality wise. She is very naïve and clearly has been raised fairly sheltered in some capacities. I honestly think sometimes she is almost too infantile and wonder if she would’ve been characterized this way in a modern game. She also is very interested in elven history and is a mage with highly capable skills.
Isabelle is basically a pirate landlocked for the time being and made a brief appearance in DAO in the city of Denerim. Honestly, I am not a fan of her character, you can call me a prude, but to me it seems she’s always too candid about sex and it almost seems like it’s her whole “personality” to simply be horny, like Isabelle, we get it… Not to say there aren’t people who are into that kind of character I just wish she got a little more characterization in the actual game of DA2 and not with supplemental materials 😑.
Lastly, we have our DLC character Sebastian, who is a very polarizing character within the fandom, in fact in some cases it just seems to be a blatant dislike of his character. Sebastian is a successor to the Starkhaven throne but essentially grapples with his commitments as a chantry brother (basically the DA2 equivalent of a monk). I like the premise of this, but his character is severely underdeveloped both story and personality wise. We get to briefly meet him in the first Act but he doesn’t actually join us as a companion until the second Act. Honestly despite his flaws and being an underdeveloped character, I always have to have him in my game nonetheless. He gives another perspective to Hawke’s gang that is very different from the other companions.
There are four romance options in DA2 (no, the “romance” for Sebastian hardly counts). Isabelle and Merrill are our ladies and Anders and Fenris are our lads. In this game they didn’t attempt to have any requirements for sex or race so any Hawke can romance and character. In my opinion I really didn’t like any of the romances. Fenris is my top pick but in many ways, but I think he has too much trauma to have my Hawke coming in and complicating things. Honestly, my canon Hawke is a single lady, I know a Dragon Age game without romance who would dare 😱🤣 Though I will say if Sebastian’s romance was an actually fully executed romance, I may have gone with him 😂
I think in part the romances feel a bit on the shallow side in comparison with DAI’s choices (my first introduction to Dragon Age). There are essentially two ways one can go about the romances and that is if you go the friendship route or rivalry route. These are simply an offshoot of the overall friendship system in which the potential either agrees or disagrees with your actions.
Our Protagonist: Hawke
LOVE MY HAWK 😍 // Personality // More of an Established Character
I love my Hawke! I think Hawke in many ways is the strongest protagonist out of the entire Dragon Age series. I like that we got an actual backstory, a family, and occasional recollections of his/her life before the events of DA2. Hawke definitely gave me a Shepard vibe from the Mass Effect series, and I honestly wish we could have seen the Dragon Age series move more in this direction. It would have been really interesting to have an established character throughout many games instead of a new one each time.
The dialogue response options in the game enable players to give their Hawke a semblance of a personality with either blue, purple, or red dialogue response options. You hear many people describe their Hawke’s in terms of these colors because of the strong personality connection. Blue Hawke is the more diplomatic and calmer Hawke (my canon Hawke is a blue Hawke). Purple Hawke is what appears to be the most popular among fans which is the sarcastic Hawke with a snarky comment for almost every situation 😂 Red Hawke is the aggressive Hawke with a much more… well… aggressive and angrier responses to situations. While you can pick any response I think most typically tend to lean in heavily towards a specific color throughout the entirety of the game or for more character progression change the tone for each Act of the story.
In my opinion Hawke is the best protagonist out of the three Dragon Age series. Just for context my canon Hawke is a female, mage, and predominantly blue Hawke. I like the concept of a backstory and in general there are more personal things at stake for Hawke opposed to a blank slate character with implied stakes. Now I know that in many RPG games there is an appeal of a blank slate character because one can use imagination to fill in the blanks.
Of late, looking retrospectively at the series and many RPGs in general, I’m getting a bit tired of every character being a blank slate and often more neutral options opposed to having more character flaws and personality. This is why Hawke, while we dictate decisions has more of an established character than any of the other protagonists and therefor has more presence and individualism.
There are three major DLCs with DA2. Two are story driven and the third is a character DLC, the Exiled Prince, where you can have Sebastian as an additional companion. There are other additional addons but today when you buy the game you typically get all the DLCs included.
Legacy, in my opinion is a must play for DA2. It sets the foundations for some of the events for DAI and is simply a really compelling and intriguing story. It takes Hawke on an adventure involving his/her father, grey warden involvement, and of course weird magic. This is a linear story that gives more insight to not only Hawke’s character but more of the Grey Wardens activities, and just… weird magic.
Playing this DLC after DAI suddenly more things in DAI made sense and gave a bit more context. I would spoil anything further but simply say if you are even remotely invested into the lore and grad story of Dragon Age this DLC should be played.
Mark of the Assassin
This DLC was an interesting one. It’s a fair weather DLC in that some people don’t like it and some still play it but think it’s an average story at best. I don’t think I’ve ever seen thunderous applause for it being an earth shattering DLC.
The DLC drags Hawke and company to an Orlesian estate where you essentially have to hobnob with nobles. This DLC features a temporary companion, an elf named Talis, who is voiced by Felicia Day, which honestly, I had no idea who this actress was😶Apparently, some people think Talis is a replication of Felicia Day, though I cannot confirm or deny that sentiment.
For the most part I didn’t see Talis as a bad character and actually brought some first had experience with lore that previously was just mentioned in passing. Essentially, with the help of Talis we have to procure a relic hidden in the Orlesian estate and events unravel and make for an interesting experience. I kind of like the premise of being trapped in an Orlesian estate with nobles so I typically play this DLC. But I suppose if you don’t like Felicia Day or just find this to be a fluff piece of content you could conceivably skip it.
Options: Keyboard or controller
Standard Dragon Age Classes // Weapon Limitations // No Major Glitches Experienced
The gameplay in this game is probably the most simplistic and flashy of the entire series. I played the game predominantly on the keyboard and it plays fairly similar to all the Dragon Age games. It’s less clunky than DAO and slicker than DAI. Honestly there was nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary.
This game is similar to DAI in that the game really isn’t that hard combat wise. I can comfortably play in hard mode and not feel overwhelmed or look like a dunce in combat 😂 I don’t think the combat is anything extraordinary either and the overall animations and skills can be a bit over the top. I will say I love how opponents almost seemingly appear out of nowhere 🤣 All in all, I don’t play DA2 for its combat experience.
This game as the same classes as the other Dragon Age games; mage, rogue, or warrior. There are three specializations per class that you have a certain amount of customization as to what buffs and skills you want to apply to Hawke. I almost play the game exclusively as a mage so that is where I have the most experience class and weapon wise.
One of the major limitations of the game is the weaponry options available. The mage class weapon wise is simply a staff. The rogue gives you an option of dual daggers or bow and arrow while the warrior class gives the option of sword and shield or dual handed sword. Crafting is barely a thing, and you aren’t constantly doing weapon or armor maintenance in this game. Overall, the weapon choice is pretty underwhelming and not complicated.
In my various playthroughs of DA2 I have never experienced a game breaking glitch. The game runs smoothly and the animations (for what they are) are fine. I think this is the Dragon Age game so far where I’ve had the least number of glitches.
Graphics, Artistic/Aesthetic Style, & Ambience
2011 Graphics and Animations // Interesting Aesthetics // A bit on the Repetitive Side
The overall graphic quality of DA2 is an improvement from DAO in my opinion. Everything is just a tad smoother in texture. When playing on higher graphical settings the game does not appear to be completely outdated and is never jarring from a visual standpoint. I think a key factor in DA2s better appearance is that it does not continue DAO’s extremely dark palate of brown/red and goes in a more neutral palate that is somewhat muted.
The overall backdrop of Kirkwall sounds good on paper but the overall execution is average. I think due to the age of the game there were limitations of what could be done to make Kirkwall feel like an expansive city. Replaying the game after playing other games it feels pretty bare bones and not a lot of activity anywhere. Many buildings look similar and there isn’t a lot of variety in facades or color palates. I do like how the in-game map does give an idea of where we are travelling to and the overall distance to accommodate the rather sparse areas within.
The most discussed topic amongst the fandom is the highly repetitious nature of certain sceneries, namely the dungeons. They virtually are all the same with some minor changes (if they even attempted to do that 😂). Since I’ve never liked dungeons and typically want to get out of there as fast as possible this never bothered me too much because the dungeons they reused aren’t that large. I also like the common head cannon for many fans which is due to Varric relaying the story and because of his hatred for underground locations all tunnels look the same. It can be convincing that that sentiment rubbed off in our perception of the tunnels.
The overall aesthetics are an interesting one because all of the characters have a weird anime cutesy undertone to them which was definitely not present in DAO or DAI. The elves’ appearances took the most drastic change in terms of looks. They have more of an alien like appearance and look less humanoid than they did in DAO. While these character aesthetics are not inherently bad and you get used to it makes me wonder why they did such a drastic change aesthetic wise.
There are outfit options for Hawke, especially if you have the DLC items. Other than that, the options given are pretty sparse. There are essentially no options for different items for your companions (unless you have DLC which gives one different outfit). You can tell they just totally scrapped the idea of character and companion customization and made a simple approach. Definitely feels like this is an area they had to cut in the game.
Would I Still Recommend?
Dragon Age 2 is a game where I think I like the premise of and look past a lot of its shortcomings. I think in some ways DA2 is my favorite game of the series just from a level of storytelling and being able to play as Hawke. The overall construction of the story and how they had the notion that these events already happened and we were getting the story via Varric, is a really fun premise of the game. I liked how throughout the game we get a small cutscene of his interrogation as the story progresses. The actual escalation of the events in Kirkwall is also a great backdrop for the story.
DA2 has such good bones it really is a shame that this game was not nurtured and carefully crafted like the other Dragon Age or Mass Effect games. Because in all honesty, I think this one could have been the absolute best in the Dragon Age series, unfortunately ‘twas not meant to be. It is a prime example of the notion “what could have been”.
The companions are all very present in the game and all offer unique perspectives. While I would say I am not a fan of every companion, in fact many of the companions I don’t personally like. They all serve a purpose and give insight to the very morally grey situations that occur throughout the game.
I wouldn’t recommend this game if you get angry at an incomplete product, don’t like 2011 graphics, wanted opportunity for exploration, or wanted a more customizable character as the protagonist. This game is not meant for everybody, and even within the Dragon Age fandom people dislike or simply don’t play this game. If you have any concerns about the notion that there are clear instances of watered-down product and have not played and other games from the Dragon Age series I would say spent your money and time elsewhere.
I would recommend this game is you have played any other games from Dragon Age, like a somewhat established protagonist, a story based within the context of one city, and just getting the full context of the events that transpired before DAI this is a must play experience! As I have said before so many events and passing comments that were in DAI suddenly made a whole lot more sense and gave a much more weighted meaning to some of the decisions simply by playing DA2.
If you can get past the blatant cuts and limitations the game has, as I said before the game has good bones. The story is a compelling one and the level of interaction with the companions and their integration into the story are great. I wish I had played this game a lot sooner, so I wholeheartedly say if you have wanted to play this game at any point in your life just buy it and play it!