After purchasing the game way back in 2011 when it was first released, I finally had the chance over the previous weekend to complete the BioWare RPG that was Dragon Age II. At the time of release, fans were crying “sell-out”, in response to some rushed shoddiness many attributed to Electronic Arts’ acquisition of BioWare. Some of the charges were justified while others were surely trumped up or exaggerated by EA haters who would take any opportunities to lash out.
Take, for example, the issue of repetitive environments. True enough, Dragon Age II was set within the confines of one city, therefore giving BioWare developers the excuse to reuse the same environments ad nauseam. By the second act of the game, you will surely be bored by the city of Kirkwall and have no further desire to visit this part of the world anymore. Nonetheless, for me, the blatant reuse of the same environments neither depreciates nor enhances the game for me in any way. After all, BioWare pretty much did the same thing in the first Mass Effect, reusing the same boring chambers for orchestrated fights in side quests, but that did not really detract me from enjoying the game.
Less forgivable is perhaps the general aimlessness of the narrative. Right up to the end of the second act, Dragon Age 2 seems to just meander along, throwing whatever assorted quests at you in a most tediously boring fashion. Oh great, somebody was messing with blood magic again. Stop him. ZZZZ. The lack of a central conflict meant that Hawke (the protagonist) would just chat with his companions, perform some annoying tasks for said companions, and stumble upon some devious acts in the process.
For a story that was supposedly about the rise of a champion, the unfolding events turned out to be hopelessly pedestrian. I feel that the developers may have missed an opportunity to put in Godfather-esque dramatic elements. They should have allowed the player to rise to the top through righteous means or dastardly measures. Perhaps Hawke could become the Champion via a multitude of options such as taking over the blood mages, romancing the viscount or subverting the city guards for his or her nefarious purposes. Instead, we get an extremely vanilla story of Hawke overcoming a half-hearted Qunari invasion.
Even in Act 3 where Hawke was supposed to side with either the Mages or Templars, the choice was much akin to making a dessert choice between dog pooh and pig semen. After all, almost all the mages in the game were taken over by abominations at some point while the Templars appeared to be total sociopaths recreating Nazi Germany. None of the game options were particularly satisfying, nor do they change the game in any significant way.
If there was one thing that Dragon Age II did improve over Origins, it was the establishment of relationships between Hawke and the NPC characters. While in the first game, an NPC’s loyalty can be easily bought with gifts and saying the right things (usually, the non-shitty response), there appear to be more intricacy in the second game, where decisions made in each side quest seems to have an impact on the degree of rivalry between Hawke and the NPCs. In the first game, a friendly relationship will either open up romantic options or ensure that NPCs would not dessert you. In Dragon Age II, apart from the aforementioned outcomes, a strained relationship may cause NPCs to turn against you at certain junctions in the game, thus creating additional difficulties in boss fights.
As with the narrative, the relationship aspect could have been enhanced and made more impactful. Perhaps an aspiring evil Hawke could team up with some of his more unsavoury teammates to get rid of a goody two shoes who stand in his way to greatness. Or perhaps you are just sick of the relentless whining of a NPC and would like to leave him stranded in Sundermount. After all, are there any players who wouldn’t want to spend hours torturing the shit out of that self-righteous and whiny terrorist, Anders? Frankly, with a little work, the possibilities are endless. BioWare should get on it immediately.